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Final Series by David Hearne
Note: This series has been split into individual stories in the web version as it was taking too long to load when combined.
GOIN’ DOWN SOUTH
By David Hearne
CLASSIFICATION: X-FILE, HUMOR
RATING: R (for…well, just about everything)
SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully go to a town called Final, Mississippi to investigate a crime that apparently did not happen.
ARCHIVE: If you want it, you can have it.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a story about the South. Or, rather, it’s about the mystique of the South. When we think of Mississippi, we think of a hot stew of weirdness and evil. That mystique has more than a bit of truth to back it up, but the real thing is a lot more complex than that. Still, the mystique is fun to play around with.
DEDICATIONS: I would like to say “thank you” to Caroline Willoughby who first read this and to Laurie Haynes who edited it.
I would also like to dedicate this story to the KKK who figure so prominently in my tale. Guys, I would just like to say…fuck you in the nose!
FEEDBACK must be delivered to where it will be brooded over on lonely winter nights.
DISCLAIMER: All right, Chris Carter. “The X-Files” is your baby. However, if the issue is money, let’s look at a few facts. Not only have watched I your show faithfully (and “Millennium” pretty faithfully as well), I have purchased all four “soundtracks,” four videotapes and three tie-in books. I saw the movie three times, twice at a matinee and once on video. My mother has gotten me an X-File calendar twice for Christmas and for my birthday, I got to go to the Expo in New York City on both Saturday and Sunday. That’s a lot of money that got spent. I think you owe me a little something.
Pay up, you suntanned bastard.
A.C. Burnside glared at the crowd as if he was about to beat them all with his guitar. In the close quarters of The Shithole, he could probably cleave off the heads of five people with one swoop of his Gibson.
“All right, you mammy-fuckers, this is the time to listen!” he growled into the microphone, his big voice made bigger and just loud enough to get through the din of the audience’s cat-calls, whistles and hollers.
“This next number is a sing-a-long! And I better hear all you mammy-fuckers sing or I’m gonna chase your smelly asses out of here! That means you, you, you and you!” With each ‘you,’ A.C. pointed at an individual person who responded with a cheer or a grin. Nobody looked too intimidated even though A.C. didn’t seem to be kidding and he did, in fact, own the bar.
Standing near the doorway, Ben Hedge tensed his large shoulders. If A.C. ordered him to haul somebody out, then he was required to do it quicker than shit down a greased plank. Sometimes, he had do it because the person in question was making trouble, but simply pissing off A.C. was also a good way to get yourself tossed out of the Shithole. And A.C. was always pissed off about something. Luckily, most of the people who got the shaft from the bar owner/blues musician took it in good humor. It was even regarded as a rite of passage in Final, Mississippi.
However, occasionally, someone did not take it in good humor.
That’s when Ben had to move onto the next level.
The woman behind the bar had witnessed A.C.‘s temper longer than Ben had. She was A.C.‘s sister, after all. Zola Burnside believed in God because divine intervention was the only explanation for her brother’s relatively unscathed life. Here he was, a hot-tempered black man living in the only state that gave a double-digit percentage of its electorate to David Duke’s presidential campaign…a man who presided over a blues bar with the highest potency of alcohol and the least effective air conditioning in the whole South…a man who took offense at the slightest affront…yet he had managed to have only a few scars on his body and a large circle of friends. Or acquaintances, anyway.
That’s why she didn’t mind serving the drinks at the Shithole or think much about supplying A.C.‘s Home Brew to anyone who wanted it. (A.C.‘s Home Brew was a mixture brewed in his own still. Its exact ingredients have been rumored to be a wide range of items from paint remover to buckshot to weeds plucked from the ground next to an outhouse.) She calmly regarded the bar’s packed array of heads and torsos that danced, sweated and occasionally fell out-of-sight. What others would see as a drunken crowd ready to go nuts, she saw a sign of the bar’s success. Even before the clock turned nine, the Shithole would usually be full of people encased between rotting wooden walls covered with autographed photos of blue musicians who had the strange fortune to wind up playing in the bar. (“Damn, this place really is a shithole.”–Lil’ Ed Williams.) The very fact that this joint could make money indicated that the Good Lord looked over A.C. Burnside.
Of course, it could have been someone else other than God that A.C. had made a bargain with. But Zola doubted that person would have anything to do with her brother.
She managed to catch Ben’s eyes through the crowd. He communicated his tension to her. She replied with a smile.
Ben smiled back. Zola had that effect on him. Only she could have convinced him to have faith in the luck of A.C. What he liked best about her of all the women he had known was that she could always soothe him. Even their lovemaking could calm him down. Usually, sex made Ben’s heart slam back and forth in his chest, leaving him overly excited and unsettled. After a hour in Zola’s bed, he was ready to just stretch out and take a nap. “You have a Valium pussy,” he once told her. (He discovered that women don’t really regard this as a compliment.)
With one last exhortation to the “mammy-fuckers,” A.C. and his band struck up “Smokestack Lightnin’.”
“Can’t you hear me crying?” A.C. called out as if his heart could actually be broken. And every last person in that bar responded, even Ben and Zola. The sound of “Whoa- HOOOOO” went straight back to the band. A.C. nodded, but didn’t smile. He had demanded no less than this great moan.
Maybe Zola is right, Ben thought. Maybe God is looking after A.C. Can’t figure out the fuck why, but it looks like this night will turn out fine, after all.
Johnny McDonald clutched his Bible to his chest and wondered if he dared to enter Hell again.
When he had come the last time, he hadn’t been alone. The assault on the satanic establishment whose name he couldn’t dare utter was supposed to have been a great triumph for Young Christians for Change. As they had marched across the railroad tracks and through the streets of the “black half” of Final, he had felt a general like in God’s army. Marching with him were the representatives of a new generation who would turn their back on the godless ways of a fallen America. They were going to show the Devil himself that not all teenagers were in the sway of his evil music. And they would throw down the gauntlet in his own camp.
The six of them had burst into the Shi…the bar. There they were, six white, well-scrubbed faces before an ocean of black, sweating ones. The two young women in their group frowned in disapproval at the naked shoulders and lengthy display of leg on the female patrons. The young men stood with them, ready to put the armor of their ironed white shirts and well-polished black shoes between their women’s chastity and the sin that choked the bar’s air.
Johnny held up his Bible and cried out, “Repent!”
And for one quiet moment, he could feel the Lord’s power surging through him, a mighty force that no one could withstand.
In the next moment, every one of the Young Christians for Change had been tossed outside. All except for Johnny. He spent the rest of the night tied up and gagged on the stage, laid out next to the drums. For many hellish hours, his ears were punished with that evil (yet strangely enticing) music. He could feel it vibrating through the hot stage under him. The sinful bar owner would occasionally place his boot on him, tapping out the music’s tempo on his back to the audience’s wicked delight. However, that wasn’t the most humiliating, enraging thing about that night. He had led this Christian assault on this bar in the hopes of freeing at least one soul. That one soul was the other guitarist in the bar, a young man who was none other than the son of the pastor of Final Baptist Church. Somehow, his black teenage peer had been seduced into this pit.
He had tried desperately to convince the preacher of the danger posed to her son. She would only smile and said, “I have confidence in the goodness of my son’s soul. And whatever you may think of A.C., he’s a caring man at heart. My son is in strong, capable hands.”
“God have mercy on you,” Johnny shot back and marched away.
This was to be expected. Just because a woman was the daughter of the town’s last preacher doesn’t mean that she should be entrusted with the spiritual life of the community. Granted that this woman had a certain…effect on people, but a man was a man and a woman was a woman. If you let the latter take over, then everything falls apart into wickedness and despair. He knew that a lot of people in town felt the same way. He waited for the day on which he would overthrow the presumptuous woman from her position and appoint a more deserving person in her place.
Now, it was time to make a stand. It was time to show the preacher how a real spiritual leader works. And he would start by saving the soul of her son.
You would think that the son would appreciate this.
Instead, the preacher’s son did nothing to help him. When Johnny had looked up at him with a plea in his eyes as he laid on the stage, the guitarist only shrugged and turned to the audience.
It had angered Johnny so much that he lodged a complaint with the Chief. Of course, he should have known better. The Chief was always going to side with the woman that he lusted after and, besides, he was one of THOSE people. He only said, “Johnny, you were lucky that A.C. didn’t shove a bottle up your ass.”
It turned out that the other members of Young Christians for Change agreed with the Chief. When he proposed another raid on the bar, they declined. Cowards, Johnny thought. Did they not trust in the Lord?
It was his own trust in God that brought Johnny McDonald back to Hornet Street. He stood a few blocks away from that unspeakable bar, attempting to work enough up righteousness to make a solo assault. The heathen music could reach his ears.
“Fare you well…never see you no more…can’t you hear me crying…” “Whoa-HOOOOO…”
Johnny shuddered. He just didn’t understand black people. One moment they could play such holy music, the next they were wailing the devil’s tunes.
He took several breaths, praying his strength up. While he was doing this, he saw a car pull up to the curb next to the bar. He wondered why it was parking there and not in the lot behind the bar.
Then he saw four white sheets and he pissed in his pants.
Ben was almost enjoying himself–the music was so good, the audience was so happy, Zola was looking so fine–when he saw the worried look on the face of Malcolm Burnside, Jr.
One thing that you were sure of in the Shithole–how ever rowdy things might get, none of it touched Malcolm. He would stand by A.C. on the tiny stage, oblivious to the rants of his uncle as he checked on his guitar or looked calmly over the screaming audience. No matter how scorching hot the music felt, he would pluck his strings with a cool detachment. (In contrast, the drummer had been playing with A.C. for over a decade and he still looked tempted to throw a cymbal at his band leader’s head.) You could have said that Malcolm had gotten that coolness from his father but Malcolm had never known his daddy. Besides, there was something else to Malcolm…he seemed to be watching you from the clouds…
That’s why Ben took notice when Malcolm looked towards the back of the Shithole, fear and uncertainty in his eyes. The bouncer got himself ready for anything.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t ready enough.
One bullet is enough to kill a man. Twenty bullets broke through the door and Ben Hedge was in the pathway of all of them. He felt one piece of himself fall away, then another and another. People turned to see him getting chopped up into chunks the size of bread loaves. Those in the back were sprayed with blood. One person was knocked unconscious by a flying shoulder bone.
There was one-half second where the music stopped and everyone watched in silence as Ben fell apart. Screaming followed, of course. Right as the screaming started, the chewed-up door was kicked easily off its hinges and four people in white robes rushed in. They quickly formed a line, their eyes staring out from their hoods and their machine guns facing the crowd that was pushing itself back to a space that didn’t exist, cramming themselves into a knot of flesh, sucking out the air that was needed to sustain their screams. Zola had grabbed a rifle from under the bar. A.C. was going for a gun that he kept behind a speaker.
Malcolm was just standing still. He wasn’t looking at the hooded invaders. He was staring at a man standing behind them. A bowler hat topped off this man’s short body while a black dress suit led down from his neck to his black shoes. He was waving his hands at Malcolm, eyes wide behind his spectacles as he shouted out a no that only the black teenager could hear.
“Fuck it,” Malcolm muttered.
Julius Grant sat in the car and wondered who invented circus peanuts. Maybe it was that George Washington Carver, he thought. That boy was always doing things with peanuts, wasn’t he? Thought up peanut butter, he did. That it itself was a miracle-and-a-half, but if he had come up with circus peanuts as well, then Carver was probably the greatest man who ever lived. Boy probably deserved a blow job from the Virgin Mary herself.
Julius munched on the orange circus peanuts as the screams and gunfire continued inside the Shithole. In a few moments, there were no more screams, but the gunfire lasted awhile longer.
Yep, nothing like circus peanuts.
The four hooded men fled the Shithole and jumped into the car. In a few seconds, the bar was a distant spot in the rear view mirror.
“We did it,” one of them said, exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. “We really did it.”
“Yep,” Julius said, munching the last peanut and crumbling up the plastic bag. “Now let’s see if anything grows where we just took a shit.”
Johnny McDonald looked carefully out from the dark alley he had retreated into. His whole body was trembling. He made sure that the car carrying the Klan members was out-of- sight. Then he vomited.
He looked at the Shithole. The next thing he knew, he was walking towards there. Why are you doing this? he asked. You know what you’re going to see. Just call the police. Don’t look inside. Don’t go through that doorway. Don’t…
There was blood everywhere, streaked up and down the walls, forming puddles at your feet, sprinkled across the ceiling.
That wasn’t surprising.
There were burning holes in the walls, shards of smashed bottles, clothing torn into shreds, speakers and guitars throwing off sparks.
That wasn’t surprising, either.
What was surprising was that people were standing up. They looked dazed but, despite the blood and damage all around them, they looked completely unharmed.
On the stage, Malcolm watched over them with his busted guitar at his side. They stared back at the withdrawn expression on his face. He seemed to be a hundred feet above them.
Then A.C. saw Johnny and his wide eyes.
“What are you lookin’ at, mammy-fucker?”
Chief Meyer Spiegelman felt like a schmuck. A southern- fried schmuck. A durn putz.
Why am I doing this? he thought. Why am I wasting time with this bullshit?
He opened a drawer on his desk. He stared at the inside for a few seconds, then he closed it and sighed.
Sounds could be heard in the reception area — a couple of visitors. He could make out the word “agents.” One of his officers yelled out, “Chief, someone here to see you!” He forced himself off his chair and left his office.
He was a bit surprised when he saw Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. He had expected to see a couple of pale- skinned geeks in glasses. After all, what other kind of person wastes time with investigating “paranormal phenomena?” (He had abso-fucking-lutely no idea what that meant.)
Instead, he found two very good-looking people who were dressed well enough to make him jealous of an FBI agent’s salary. They waited for him behind the dividing line between the main office area and the front foyer. The man was tall and dark-haired with a long nose that gave his handsome features the right amount of character. The woman had red hair that curved gracefully down her head and blue eyes that said, “I’m short, I’m a woman, but I’m not the receptacle for your bullshit.”
They looked like the lead actors of a fancy Hollywood show. Spiegelman’s two patrolmen, on the other hand, looked like understudies for Boss Hogg. They were standing next to the snack table, red faces snickering as they added more doughnuts to bellies that squeezed themselves over their gun belts.
“Chief Spiegelman, I’m Agent Mulder,” the dark-haired man said. “This is Agent…”
“How many Spics does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” one of the patrolmen inquired of the other.
“I don’t know,” the other replied with a giggle. “How many?” Before the wit could come with up the answer, Spiegelman hollered at them. “Damn, ain’t you two the very pride of Final’s police department? I’m just overjoyed that these two FBI agents could see you working your fat asses off!”
The two officers stared at Spiegelman, both angry and humiliated, powder flaking off the doughnuts in their frozen hands.
“And…this is Agent Scully,” Mulder said slowly.
Spiegelman glanced at Mulder and said, “Hey.” Then he directed another growl towards his patrol officers.
“Call me a kike.”
The policemen said nothing.
“I know you call me that behind my back. Why don’t you go ahead and get it out in the air instead of holding it behind your yellow teeth?”
The fat police officers looked down.
“You’re a kike…” one of the cops finally mumbled.
“And you’re a couple of whale-sized rednecks with roadkill for brains. Now this is what we call a mutual understanding.”
Spiegelman turned back to the FBI agents. “Follow me,” he said politely.
Mulder and Scully followed the chief to his office, too aware of the loathing in the policemen’s eyes and the guns hanging at their sides.
“You’re probably wondering why I keep them on my team,” Spiegelman observed after he closed the door.
“Actually, we were wondering if you are in any kind of physical danger from your own subordinates,” Scully told him.
Spiegelman turned his body to her, those six-feet-two- inches of wide muscle poised carefully on his boots. His face was as blank as an unplugged TV.
“I ain’t worried,” he told her. “Have a seat.”
Mulder and Scully sat down in front of his desk, a little quickly.
“I keep them on because I need all the men I can get,” he explained as he took his own chair. “Final has a population of 700. Small, but that’s still a lot for just two people.”
“Me and Sally Ash, my one good officer. If nothing else, those two pissants can stop a few bullets before they reach us. And they got nowhere else to look for work.”
He waved a hand through the air, tossing the subject away. “Now, about why I asked you here…”
“Yes,” Mulder said. “You seem to have an unusual situation here.”
A little smile pulled on Spiegelman’s mouth. “You think so?”
“Well…from you told us, you have a crime that has been witnessed but never happened.”
“What I have is some scripture-sucking kid who has used a yellow highlighter on Revelations so much that the fumes of the ink has gone to his brain. Next thing you know, he’ll be seeing statues of Jesus bleeding out of their dicks or something.”
Mulder cleared his throat and said, “I’m familiar with the history of reported religious visions. I’m also aware that much of it is delusional. However, what Johnny McDonald has testified to observing deviates from the standard motifs of spiritual visitation.”
“Which is another way of saying someone has imagined a whole new brand of shit.”
Mulder looked at Scully. She looked back at him, then turned to Spiegelman. “Chief, why did you ask us here?”
Spiegelman turned away in his chair and rubbed his eyes. “Well…to tell you the truth, I called you people as a favor to a friend.”
“Who is …?”
“Nadine. Reverend Nadine Burnside. Her son was in the Shithole when…this supposedly happened.”
“It’s the name of the bar. Nadine’s brother-in-law owns the place and Malcolm plays music there. Look…” His chair squeaked back in their direction. “…if you want to tell me to go stuff this case up my Semitic ass, then you’re more than welcome. If Nadine…if the reverend hadn’t begged me to look into it, I wouldn’t give a shit about it myself. Now, I know sweet f.a. about how to deal with this. I called you up because I hear that this is your specialty. So, what do you say?”
Mulder smiled. “First of all, Chief, wasting time is my specialty as my partner will tell you. Second of all, I think there is something to this story. Johnny may have actually witnessed something that night. Maybe not exactly what he says it is, but let’s see if we can find the truth in his fantasy.”
Spiegelman looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “If you don’t mind me asking, Agent Mulder, you wouldn’t be of the same background as me, would you?”
Scully waited for Mulder’s answer. She wanted to know this herself.
Mulder’s smile got longer. “That’s for me to know and for you to find out.”
“The Lord was there that night. He sent his angels to protect the sinners because God loves us all from the most holy to the most corrupt. With his never-ending power, he held back Death itself. The flesh was healed and the wounds were erased. For anyone that might doubt His love and grace, look to the bar named the Sh…look to that bar and know that nothing is beyond His…”
“This is an interrogation, not a prayer revival, you dumb little cracker,” Spiegelman snarled. “Just tell these folks what you think you saw.”
Johnny McDonald sighed inside. He knew that the chief wouldn’t understand. His race just couldn’t see the light, even if they were the Chosen People. He doubted that the male FBI agent with the chief would understand either. That nose, that name…such a dead giveaway,
On the other hand, the woman was wearing a crucifix. He had taken special notice of it because it was suspended next to two firm-looking breasts, both just the right size to fill a man’s hand.
“I will only talk to her.”
“Of all the…” Spiegelman started.
“I’m sure it will be all right,” Mulder interrupted. “Do you mind, Scully?”
“If that’s what makes Mr. McDonald comfortable.”
“Then come along, Chief.”
Spiegelman frowned, but opened the door and exited the interrogation room. Before he left, Mulder whispered into Scully’s ear, “If you need help, just speak out in tongues.”
“Now,” Scully said, looking straight at the young man sitting across from her at a table. “What happened?”
McDonald told her everything, taking note of her eyes and lips and, of course, that gold cross against her black- suited chest. He took no offense at anything she asked him, only saying “no, ma’am” to questions about his drinking habits and any possibility of head trauma.
When she was satisfied with his answers, Scully told him that he had been very helpful.
“I see you’re a believer, Agent Scully.”
She glanced down at her cross. “Yes. I am.”
He leaned forward, drawing those breasts closer to him. “Do you also believe that a miracle has taken place?” he said.
“It’s too soon for me to make a conclusion. Of course, the Catholic heritage has no shortage of…”
Johnny lurched back from Scully as images of blood-filled cups and the Pope leading murderous armies flashed through his mind.
“Is there a problem?” Scully asked quietly.
“Well…I suppose that you can’t help it.”
“I can kick him around for a bit, if you like.”
“There’s no need for Southern chivalry, Chief.”
“Nothing chivalrous about it,” Spiegelman told Scully. “The boy just has it coming.”
“I sense a bit of hostility from you, Chief,” Mulder said.
“That little prick thinks he can be a better preacher than Nadine. The really fucked-up thing is that he might end up getting the job. Nadine is a great preacher, but this is still a cracker town that has trouble with the idea of a woman being the head of a church.”
“Or a Jew being Chief of Police?”
Spiegelman frowned, not at Mulder but at the whole population of Final.
Scully cleared her throat.
Spiegelman shook his head. “Sorry about that. Well, Agent Scully, what did you make of his story?”
“As Agent Mulder said, there might be some truth in his tale. I suggest that we start with the elements in it that sound most probable.”
“That would be the Klan shooting at a bar full of black people,” Mulder commented. “Chief, did you talk with the owner of the, uh…the Shithole?”
“A.C.? I called him up and asked if there had been any trouble that night. He said, ‘Nope, it was as quiet as two white people fucking.’”
“Ah. Okay. Well, did you go down there yourself to look for any signs of gunfire?”
Spiegelman looked at Mulder. “That would be saying that A.C. lied to me. I don’t feel like calling him that under any circumstances, especially when I have only the word of some pimply-faced Bible-beater.”
“Maybe he’s afraid that the Klan will retaliate if he talks.”
Spiegelman got a good laugh out of that.
“If the Klan ever tried to attack his bar,” he chortled, “then A.C. would track them down so he could make a necklace out of their nuts. Since that hasn’t happened, I’m even more doubtful that Johnny’s story is true.”
“Then why don’t we make sure?”
“Are there any local chapters of the Klan around?”
Spiegelman raised his eyebrows. “You ask that in Mississippi?”
The house looked pretty much like they expected. Holes were bitten into the screen door. An brown oil drum rested pointlessly in a lawn that was nourishing an empire of weeds. An old rebel flag jutted out defiantly under the shine of the roof’s aluminum tiles.
“Fred!” Spiegelman called out. “Fred Udell, you in here?”
“Go away!” a high-pitched voice shot back.
Spiegelman motioned to Mulder and Scully who followed him into the house where they found more of the expected — a television set with a knob on it, gray tape all over the furniture, “The Turner Diaries” and “Mein Kampf” on the shelves, commemorative dishes in a display case.
“I said, go away!” Udell hollered. “I’m taking a shit!”
“We can wait,” Spiegelman said as they followed the voice to the bathroom door.
There was a sound like a walrus sneezing. Everybody winced as a smell crept out from under the door. It was the kind of scent that would have been drawn in comic books as a wide brown line curving back and forth through the air.
“Oh, man…” Udell groaned.
“Then we’ll talk right here,” Spiegelman told him.
“Ah, Chief, what is this all about?”
“A couple of nights ago, someone reported that the Klan tried to shoot up A.C.‘s bar.”
There was a moment of silence from behind the door.
“Well, was there?” Udell said. Spiegelman glanced at Mulder and Scully, then said, “It’s kind of hard to say.”
“What do you mean? Were there any bodies? Did anybody get killed?”
“No. No one got killed.”
“Then what the fuck is the deal? I’m telling you, niggers get killed, people pick on the Klan. Niggers don’t get killed, people still pick on the Klan.”
“That’s not a nice word, Mr. Udell,” Mulder commented.
“Who the hell is…”
The walrus sneeze again.
“I’m Agent Fox Mulder from the FBI.”
“Oh, that’s great. Now, they’re sending in the federal kikes.”
Scully saw the look on the two men and decided to step in. “Mister Udell, it’s best that you cooperate in this matter.”
“And who are you?”
“I’m Agent Dana Scully. I’m also with the FBI.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what, Dana. You take your lesbo ass and go back to…”
Mulder kicked the door in. Before anyone could stop him, he strode into the bathroom, headed for the sun-burned, long-necked man sitting on the toilet with his pants lowered to the cracked tiles.
“Hey, man!” Udell shrieked.
Mulder stood over Udell and placed a hand against the wall behind him. He had a little smile on his face.
“That’s not a nice word, either, Mr. Udell,” he commented.
“Mulder…” Scully started, but her partner held up a hand. She looked to the chief. Spiegelman was uncertain about all this.
“It’s just a simple question,” Mulder continued. “You’re the leader of the local Klan chapter, their Grand High Wizard or Elf or whatever. Did you and your pointy-headed wonders lead a raid on the Shithole?”
A twitch jumped in Udell’s cheek.
“Well, did you?”
Another spurt jettisoned into the water. Udell closed his eyes.
“Look me in the eyes, Udell.”
He slowly lifted his eyelids.
“Now, tell me.”
The Adam’s apple in Udell’s throat went up and down.
Then he said, “You can’t prove we were.”
Mulder stared into Udell’s eyes for a few moments before he said, “That will be all, Mister Udell.”
He went to the door, stopped there and looked back. “Oh, by the way…”
Udell shifted his eyes in the agent’s direction.
“Make sure you get lots of fiber.”
As Spiegelman drove them away in his police car, he said, “I’m not sure you should have done that, Agent Mulder.”
“I thought you would have liked it, Chief.”
“I’m not above getting rough. But I like to do it with cause. We don’t know if anything happened at…”
“They were there. They were there with guns.”
Spiegelman glanced at Mulder. Scully asked, “How can you be sure?”
“I looked into his eyes. He was there with his buddies and he was there to kill.”
“All right,” Spiegelman said. “Then how come nobody got killed?”
“Agent Mulder…if Johnny is telling the truth, they went in there heavily armed. And there’s very little cover in the Shithole. How could they have missed?”
“That would have been a miracle, wouldn’t it?”
Spiegelman looked at Mulder again, then shook his head.
“Okay, Mulder,” Scully said. “Try this one. You’re a KKK member who has just tried to kill a bunch of black people. They all survive.”
“Right. A miracle.”
“Didn’t Mr. Udell seem — despite his condition — a little too relaxed?”
“She’s right, Mulder,” Spiegelman said. “That son-of-a- bitch should have been over the Mississippi border by now. If a miracle like that did take place, any Klan member wouldn’t be waiting around in his house and taking a shit. He would be hiding in the hills, too scared to show himself.”
Mulder said nothing.
“Questions, questions, questions,” Mulder said with a lazy air. Before Scully or Spiegelman could respond (her with weariness and him with a curse), he added, “I would like to see Mr. Burnside.”
Spiegelman sighed. “All right. But I’m waiting in the car.”
A few sounds really got on Julius Grant’s nerves — jackhammers, car alarms, Garth Brooks and the sound of Fred Udell’s voice.
“That kike chief was here!” Udell screeched over the phone. “And he had a couple of FBI agents with him!”
“That’s something special,” Julius replied in a casual tone though his body was tense despite being laid across a chair covered in genuine yak hair. The sound of Fred Udell had that effect on him.
“They’re going to find out what happened!”
“Nothing happened, Fred. You know that.”
“Oh, Jesus, Mr. Grant…I mean, you told us to expect something like this, but…man, this is the weirdest fucking shit I’ve seen. Those niggers were dead.”
“And now they’re not. Hallelujah.”
“I hope like hell you know what you’re doing.”
“I’m only doing this because I believe that it will protect the white race.”
“Fred, after I’m done, you’ll be able to march through Harlem and lynch Puff Daddy, Jesse Jackson and Toni Morrison from the nearest flagpole. On job applications, the question on race will have two boxes to check — ‘white’ or ‘mud people.’ There will be models walking down the runways in white robes and pointed hoods. UPN will be shut down forever. And you…you, Fred, will have the biggest dick in the world.”
The silence on the other end was the sound of Fred Udell taking in that vision.
“Yes, Mr. Grant?”
“This can only work if…we…all…stay…calm.”
“Yes, sir. I’m calm.”
“Good. Now return to your shitting.”
Julius hung up the phone and wondered why did plans like this always required the help of assholes. A great trumpeting sound shot through an open window.
“Okay, okay, Stonewall,” Julius grumbled. “I’m coming.”
Mulder and Scully heard the shots right after they got out of Spiegelman’s car. They dropped down to the front lawn of A.C. Burnside’s house, their guns drawn and pointed at his front door.
Spiegelman called out to them from the curb where he was parked. “It’s okay,” he said casually. “Just go on in.”
They looked back at the chief. He impatiently waved them inside. Mulder and Scully then looked at each other. Another shot banged inside the house.
They climbed to their feet, brushing off the long brown marks from their clothes. A.C.‘s lawn was more dirt than grass. Planted into the ground were signs that read “If you’re selling something, fuck off!” and “If you’re here to save my soul, fuck off!” and so on and so on. All the windows on the house had iron bars and a sledgehammer couldn’t knock off the lock on that door.
They could hear another sound beside the occasional gunshot. A guitar was being played and a voice was singing, unperturbed by the gunfire. The voice had strong, firm qualities, but it sang quietly.
“Down in old Mexico, where a child will slap your face. “Down in old Mexico, where a child will slap your face. “They make bread with cotton powder. “Drink gunpowder to kill the taste.”
Mulder rang the doorbell which let off a chime that he recognized as “Got My Mojo Working.”
“But it just don’t work on you,” he said to his partner with a raised eyebrow.
“There’s a reason for that,” she informed him.
The guitar player stopped singing. A few moments later, the door was opened by a tall, thin black youth. His face still had the softness of teenage years, but there was nothing soft in his eyes. It wasn’t an unfriendly look., but he seemed to be testing the two FBI agents. “May I help you two?” he asked.
Mulder pulled out his badge. “I’m Agent Fox Mulder from…”
Another gunshot echoed from inside the house. Mulder took a moment before continuing.
“… the FBI. This is my partner, Dana Scully.”
A tiny smile touched the young man’s face. “You’re finally busting my uncle’s still?”
“No. We’re here to talk to Mr. Burnside about a reported incident at his bar.”
The young man slowly nodded.
“Excuse me,” Scully said, “but are you the son of Nadine Burnside?”
“That’s right. Name’s Malcolm. Malcolm, Jr.”
He held out his hand. Both the two agents shook it and felt his long fingers.
“So,” Malcolm said. “a reported incident, huh?”
“Yes. Is your uncle in?”
Bang. “Take that, you mammy-fucker!”
The smile on Malcolm’s face got bigger. “Oh, he’s in. Come on.”
Malcolm led them to the living room, then called out “A.C.!”
“A couple of FBI agents are here to see you!”
There was a moment of silence during which Malcolm sat down in a chair and picked up his guitar again.
Then a door swung open and a man in his early forties came marching down a narrow hallway. He was a short, compact man with a balding head. He looked like a bullet on legs. And speaking of bullets, a gun was in his hand, its barrel pointing to the floor.
Naturally, Mulder and Scully tensed up.
“What do you two federal mammy-fuckers want?”
Before they could form any reasonable response, Malcolm cleared his throat. A.C. glared at his nephew who looked calmly back as he held out his hand.
A.C. slapped the gun into Malcolm’s hand. Malcolm placed it on the floor and then concentrated on his guitar, making the strings vibrate with a fluid rhythm.
“Well?” A.C. shouted.
“Well,” Scully said in her best “your-fire-can’t-melt-my- ice” voice, “what were you shooting at in there?”
“Nothin’. That’s my growlery. Whenever I want to let off a little steam, I go in there and fire a few bullets into the walls.”
The walls must look like a beehive now, Mulder thought. “You know,” he said in his best “let’s-be-friendly-with-the- lunatic” voice, “there’s a character in a Charles Dickens novel who has something called a ‘growlery.’”
A.C. slowly turned his eyes to Mulder and stared at him for a heartbeat.
Then he yelled, “I know that, you mammy-fucker! You think that I could think up something like that by myself?”
A.C. pointed at his nephew. “Malcolm gave me a copy of ‘Bleak House’ to read. He’s been keeping me updated on the fucking glory that is Western Civilization.”
“That’s right,” Malcolm said without looking up. “I have.”
“Nice book. Too much of that whiny Esther Summerson bitch, though. I liked that bad-ass Inspector Bucket.”
“Uh, Mr. Burnside…” Scully began.
“The name is A.C. You want something to drink?”
“I do. Take a seat and I’ll be back in a second.”
A.C. left the room. Mulder and Scully dutifully sat down on a couch whose springs creaked like turning gears. As A.C. searched through a refrigerator, Malcolm took up his song again.
“The women down in Mexico, they’re as bad as bad can be. “The women down in Mexico, they’re as bad as bad can be. “They eat rattlesnakes for breakfast “And drink the rattlesnakes’ blood for tea.”
A.C. came back, a moist bottle of beer in his hand. He gulped down a cup full, then asked, “You two came down here just to talk about books?”
Mulder said, “We came here because someone reported that the KKK attacked your bar a few nights ago.”
A moment of silence.
“Don’t know where you heard that,” A.C. said in an even voice. “‘Cause it didn’t happen. If it did happen, I wouldn’t be here talking with you. I would be trying to track down those pointy-headed mammy-fuckers so I can…”
“Make a necklace out of their testicles?”
“Yeah and then sell it for half-price at Bloomingdale’s.” Another swig of beer was tossed down A.C.‘s throat. Malcolm kept playing effortlessly.
Mulder turned to the younger man. “Do you play down at your uncle’s bar?”
“You mean, the Shithole?” Malcolm answered, still looking at his guitar.
“Yes. The Shithole.”
“Yeah, I play there a lot. Me and A.C. are in the house band.”
“You see anything strange recently down there?”
“Now wait a minute,” A.C. interrupted, pointing his bottle’s neck at a Mulder like a sword. “I’m the one who gets the goddamned questions and not…”
“Shut up, A.C.,” Malcolm said, his voice still as cool as ever. Much to Mulder and Scully’s surprise, A.C. did shut up.
“I have witnessed a lot of strange things,” Malcolm continued, the guitar singing under his touch. “I’ve seen a parked car with no driver suddenly move all the way down the street and then stop. I’ve woken up in my bed to see this old man with a guitar, but only for a second before he vanishes. I once got on a bus and saw crickets all over the floor, on the seats, on the passengers. Nobody was complaining. In the bar itself…well, I’ve seen plenty there, too.”
He suddenly stopped playing and he looked up. “I’ve never seen the Klan attack the bar, though. We’ve been lucky.”
Nobody moved or spoke for many seconds.
Then Mulder said, “I understand that the bar has been closed.”
“When will you be open?”
Malcolm studied Mulder’s face, then said, “Tonight.”
A.C. looked sharply at his nephew.
Mulder then stood up and said, “Thank you very much. Come on, Scully.”
Scully left with her partner who looked a little bewildered by him. A.C. watched them outside through a window.
“They’re with Chief Spiegelman. What the fuck is that Jewboy up to?”
“I don’t know, but that Mulder guy didn’t believe us.” Malcolm did a quick scale of notes up the guitar.
A.C. turned to him. “You know, I say when it’s time my goddamned bar is open.”
“Well, is it time?”
A.C. wiped off his mouth. “Boy, it don’t matter if it is open. Nobody is going to come. Not if Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson themselves were playing tonight. People are spooked and they are spooked good.”
“Tonight, I’m going to start it off solo,” Malcolm said as if he hadn’t heard A.C. “If that’s all right.”
A.C. looked at Malcolm sitting casually in the chair and strumming the guitar. Finally he said, “Yeah. Sure. Why not? You’re a better fucking player than I am.”
“Thank you, A.C.”
A.C. watched Malcolm for a few more moments, then he grabbed his gun off the floor and left for the growlery, sucking his bottle of beer dry.
Malcolm’s fingers drew out gentle notes as the gunfire resumed. “Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson together,” he mused. “I wonder if I could…”
“No, no, no, no!”
Malcolm looked up to see an agitated face under a bowler hat and a body trembling in a black suit.
“Don’t, don’t even think that!” the man with the bowler hat stammered.
Malcolm shrugged. “Just a thought.”
“You are treading on thin ice as it were, young man. What you did in that bar was…understandable. It was a quick impulse on your part. But it should not be…”
“Okay, okay. I won’t do it again. Don’t get your balls all twisted up.” Malcolm looked at the other man’s pants. “You do have balls in there, right?”
The man in the bowler hat clenched his fists. “I’m aware that you don’t think much of me. That’s fine. But you’re my responsibility and I’m doing my best to keep this situation from getting out of control. Because if it does, then HE will get involved and that’s the last thing…”
“Down in old Mexico, they’re as wild as wild can be,” Malcolm sang as his fingers picked up the melody again.
“Malcolm, this is serious!”
“Down in old Mexico, they’re as wild as wild can be…”
The man in the bowler hat shook his head. Then he vanished. Malcolm’s voice echoed through the space he left.
“I’m leaving this country “Because they don’t kill them fast enough for me.”
Bang. “That one was for the mammy you fuck, mammy-fucker!”
Main Street in Final, Mississippi had a dusty, faded quality. Not like, say, a daguerreotype. Those old photos have a beauty of their own unique fashion. This collection of stores along the cracked street looked like a magazine left out in the desert or an empty sardine tin at the bottom of a garbage can. They didn’t look quaint, merely old and run-down. The hardware dealer appeared to have bent nails in its inventory. The newsstand probably specialized in porno and “Reader’s Digest.” Let us not think about what they serve down at “Joe’s Diner.”
The people that could be seen did not change your impression. The old men who wandered up the sidewalk or sat on the bench had no stories to tell. They just seemed hollow and glass-eyed. There were also teenagers with torn jeans and shirts with no sleeves, their eyes shifting back and forth as they drank and smoke, looking desperately for something to shake them out of their boredom. Shopkeepers and waitresses watched the outside with intense suspicion.
As they stepped out of their rental car, Scully knew that she and her partner stuck out like a turd in a bowl of Fruit Loops. She looked around her with her arms crossed over her chest as Mulder entered a phone booth and looked through a warped copy of the Yellow Pages.
She caught the attention of a group of young men. One of them puckered his lips at her and grabbed his crotch, much to the delight of his companions.
Scully lifted up her coat so they could see her gun. They immediately moved to another part of the street.
“What are you doing, Scully?” Mulder asked.
“Just scratching myself. I guess practice does make perfect.”
“All those times that you’ve ditched me has served you well. You ditched Chief Spiegelman expertly.”
“How good can I be at ditching? You always find me.”
Before Scully could reply to that, Mulder said, “Here she is. Nadine Burnside. 40 Messenger Road.” He put aside the Yellow Pages and took a small map out of his jacket. “Luckily, I got a map of Final from the chief’s office. Not that we have a lot of area to cover.”
“I can see why you want to talk with Reverend Burnside, but why don’t you want the chief around?”
“Come on, Scully. Where’s your woman’s intuition?”
Scully looked at Mulder’s smile and said, “You think that Spiegelman has a thing for the town preacher?”
“That’s why I told him that we were headed back to the hotel, ‘pending further developments.’ A man can get quite testy if he thinks you’re intimidating the woman he loves.”
“Is that why you kicked your way into Udell’s bathroom?”
Mulder’s hand froze as he reached for the car door.
“Or was that just your idea of chivalry?” Scully asked.
He looked at the woman next to him for a moment, then said, “Oh, you mean that ‘lesbo’ comment.”
With a straight face, Mulder said, “No, actually, I thought that he was talking about me.”
With an equally straight face, Scully answered, “Mulder, you’re riding in the trunk.”
Nathaniel Leed hated it when people interrupted his experiments. The abrupt sound of his mother’s voice almost made his scalpel twitch and ruin some delicate work.
“YOUR FRIEND, MR. UDELL, CALLED! HE SAID THAT YOU HAVE A MEETING TONIGHT!”
Nathan rolled his eyes. “OKAY! THANKS, MOM!”
“ARE YOU ALL RIGHT DOWN THERE?”
“DO YOU WANT ANYTHING TO EAT? SOME COOKIES?”
“ALL RIGHT THEN!”
Nathaniel sighed and returned to his work. Just what he needed. Another one of Fred ‘Worrywart’ Udell’s meetings. Nathaniel wondered why he was even a member of the Klan. He had problems with the group’s philosophy. Not that he didn’t believe that African-Americans were an inferior race. (He disdained the word ‘nigger.’ It was so unscientific.) Where he differed with the Klan was in policy. Their preferred methods were suppression and violence. He was searching for another way, a solution that could only be found in a rigorous, systematic analysis of the problem.
Of course, he had participated in the attack on the blues bar. He was, after all, a member of the KKK and obligated to go along with its current policy. However, it had struck him as a pointless endeavor. Any one of those people killed in the bar could have given him necessary data for his project.
Then, again, none of them were killed, weren’t they?
Nathaniel had a hard time with this concept. He refused to believe Mr. Grant’s story that they had risen from the dead. After all, he hadn’t seen this alleged miracle take place. Nor had he seen any of these black Lazaruses walking about. (Of course, he rarely got out and he never ventured into the black side of Final.)
Nathaniel had been suspicious of Julius Grant from the moment he had unofficially taken over Udell’s chapter of the Klan. Their ‘official’ leader had been swayed by Grant’s fantastic promises of power. Yet Grant’s story reeked of superstition and that was the last thing the Klan needed. Still, Nathaniel was a patient man. If nothing else, science was about patience. For now, he would be content to perform his experiments in their current stage, waiting for the day that he could bring a more suitable subject down into the basement of his parents’ house. He waited, his table waited and his tools waited.
Today, he had to satisfy his curiosity with a rabbit. He peeked under its skin as straps secured its trembling limbs and a gag muffled the screeches from its mouth. He remembered when he had first dissected a frog in science class. The experience had been fascinating, but he could never understand why they had to use a dead frog.
There was so much more to be learned when they were alive.
There were three things that struck Mulder and Scully when they first saw Nadine Burnside.
One, she was beautiful. Not just beautiful in that her features were awe-inspiring, but also in that you immediately knew that she was good. She would help you in your time of need. She would invite you into her house during bad weather. She would give her last dollar to feed you. She would hold you all night if you were heartbroken (which struck Mulder as being a wonderfully therapeutic notion.)
Second, she was white.
Third, she had nine fingers. Her ring finger was missing from her right hand. She made no attempt to hide her deformity.
When they had came to her house, she had been…
Actually, it was not so much a house as it was a wooden shack built on top of a tree. In other words, a tree house. Mulder and Scully had checked the address twice before they were sure that they had come to the right place. Yet their eyes did not deceive them — 40 Messenger Street was a big oak supporting a small yet sturdy tree house.
Mulder rang a bell next to a water pump.
“Who is it?” a voice called out with pure, musical tones.
“It’s Agent Mulder and Agent Scully from the FBI! We’re helping with Chief Spiegelman on a matter you discussed with him!”
A trap door opened and a rope ladder spilled out, unfurling itself to the ground. “Come on up!” Nadine Burnside said. “You’re most welcome here!”
“You go first,” Scully said to Mulder. “I don’t want you enjoying the view.”
“Oh, so it’s okay for you to look at my butt?”
“I’ve seen your butt and I’ve seen better. Now, go.”
As they climbed the ladder, they both expected to find a dirty-haired woman dressed in rags. Nadine Burnside, however, was very clean and her dress was made of a smooth hand-woven fabric. The sunlight that came through a carved-out window gave her a glow that accentuated her perfection.
Her almost-perfection. There was that missing finger, after all.
“Please sit here,” she said, indicated two pillows on the smooth wooden floor. She sat cross-legged in front of them, her expression serene and kind and helpful.
“Chief Spiegelman told me that you were coming to Final,” she told them. “I wasn’t aware that the FBI had a section that handled these matters.”
Mulder felt like every word had been ripped out of him. He could only stare at Nadine. For once, Scully did not feel embarrassed for him. His reaction wasn’t too afar from hers. She found herself remembering what Bette Davis said when she saw Greta Garbo, “My God, if there was ever a time to become a lesbian, this is it.”
Scully decided to pass on it. “We’re not exactly a high- profile department of the FBI,” she explained. “But, yes, we do handle cases that involve unexplained phenomena. However, I confess that this case is a bit hard to sort out from our viewpoint.”
“First of all, we’re not sure if any unexplained phenomena took place. Right, Mulder?”
“What?” he said.
Scully said slowly, “We’re not sure if any unexplained phenomena occurred. Right?”
“Uh, yes. Well, no. I mean…”
“You only have the story of Johnny McDonald,” Nadine said helpfully.
“Uh…yeah. That’s right. Correct. Now, I’m inclined to believe his story, but…um…”
“My partner is inclined to believe a lot,” Scully commented. Mulder made a face at her.
“You’re a man of faith,” Nadine observed.
Mulder shrugged. “In my own way.”
Nadine indicated a legless desk in the corner. A pen and a notebook were on it.
“I was preparing the sermon for Sunday when you came. I’m incorporating the part from ‘Anna Karenin’ where Levin comes to a realization about his own faith. Have you read ‘Anna Karenin?’”
“You mean…‘Anna Karenina?’”
“My son tells me that according to Vladimir Nabokov, the proper translation leaves out the ‘a’ at the end. ‘She was not a ballerina,’ Nabokov says.” Nadine made the kind of smile people would pay good money to see. “I bow to my son’s judgment in these matters. He’s much better read than I am. Anyway, Levin realizes that he didn’t need to struggle to believe in God. The belief was in him and it would always be in him. He could look out at the world and know God made it.”
Nadine leaned forward. Mulder and Scully found themselves doing the same.
“That’s how I know that Johnny McDonald speaks the truth. I know that a miracle happened in that bar. I know that because my son was there.”
Nadine nodded, then pointed. Mulder and Scully turned to see a photo held up on a homemade shelf. The photo was of a handsome black man whose face had a clear similarity to Malcolm Burnside, Jr. The expression of Malcolm, Sr. was startling. He looked like a man who should be leading armies or sitting on a throne. His eyes seemed to look directly at you and know you instantly. He wasn’t unfriendly, but he had come to an early understanding of the world, a world that he had accepted and planned to change.
“Malcolm never knew his father. He wasn’t even conceived yet. It seems that all he got from his father was a name. But my husband gave more to my son than you can imagine.”
There was a brief, silent pause.
“You mean ‘born,’ right?” Scully said.
“You said Malcolm, Jr. was even conceived yet. But you meant ‘born.’”
Nadine smiled again. “No. I meant conceived.”
Okay, Scully thought. It is now officially weird.
“Perhaps I should explain,” Nadine said.
On one hand, the marriage between Malcolm Burnside, Sr. and Nadine French could only be viewed as an inevitability. Here he was, a towering figure in the community. Unlike his salty brother, he was good-tempered and kind. Yet he was nobody’s fool. He was a man who avoided using his fists, but he knew how to drop any man to the ground. He was the organizer of several charities which he ran with as much practicality as compassion. When faced with bigotry, he gave back not hatred but his hard dignity.
Fred Udell once told him, “You’re a pretty high-and- mighty nigger, aren’t you?”
“No, sir,” Malcolm, Sr. replied. “I’m not much. It’s just that I smell so sweet when I’m next to your foul stench.”
Udell turned another shade of red, but only watched helplessly as Malcolm, Sr. walked away from him. There was too much strength and respect around the man for him to be touched.
And then there was Nadine. There was a strength in her as big as her future husband’s. Yet she seemed soft as the clouds and kind as a rainstorm in the desert. Malcolm, Sr. got your respect. She got your love. Their union was the perfect melding of the better parts in the human soul.
Then, again, he was black and she was white.
Initially, there was concern. Could the town accept a marriage between the daughter of the town minister and the brother of the Shithole’s owner? However, as the day approached, the separate racial populations of Final, Mississippi gradually relaxed. It seemed apparent that racism would not besmirch this wedding. The perfection of it was too overwhelming for the Klan or any bigot to resist. As it turned out, however, bigotry did extend its shadow over that day. Bigotry and another dark emotion of the heart.
“I was under no illusions when Malcolm put the ring on my finger. We had our disagreements before and we would have them in the future. We were only human. I also knew that, despite the smiles on both black and white faces in the church, hatred would continue to threaten us.
“However, as my father declared that we were one, I came to believe that I was understanding what heaven truly was. I felt that God had personally blessed me and that Malcolm was an angel. I walked out of the church with him into a shower of rice, certain that my life would be forever happy.
“But Bob Hoag was waiting for us.”
Nadine Burnside was kind to everyone, but Bob Hoag had seen something deeper in the kindness she had given him. How else could he explain why a vision like her would show charity on some lonely piece of white trash? Back when they were in high school, she would occasionally watch the football team practice. That was when she still was dating the captain of the football team, Meyer Spiegelman. Yet Bob suspected…he believed…he knew that her heart really belonged to him.
If it wasn’t true, why did she wave her hand at him sometimes and smile so warmly? Why did she bother even to talk to him — a young man who was only good at tackling people and lugging iron down at the scrap yard? People regarded him as a half-wit and maybe he was, but he still had his intuition. It was telling him that some unexplainable motivation had made Nadine fall in love with him.
One day, he finally confronted her with his knowledge of her love and assured her that he reciprocated it.
As gently as she could, she explained that he was mistaken. At first, he refused to accept it. His refusals become so adamant that Spiegelman took him aside and explained Nadine’s position in terms more forceful than hers.
Bob Hoag began to carry something thick and hard inside. It grew harder as he imagined the laughter just out of his hearing’s range and the jokes behind his back. It grew stronger every time he looked at his dull face in the mirror. It grew hotter after every dream where he was kissing Nadine or killing Spiegelman or killing both.
Maybe he could have learned to live with it. After all, there had been so much anger in him beforehand. What was a little more?
One day, he was working in the scrap yard, two years after his less-than-stellar high school career had concluded, when he got the word that Nadine Burnside was marrying a nigger.
It was bad enough when she had been dating a Jew. Sure, Spiegelman was the strong, handsome captain of the football team, but surely she could have chosen someone who didn’t have the blood of Christ on his hands. Still, he had come to accept it just as he come to accept that Spiegelman was team captain.
One of them…
Smothering her mouth with his big lips…
Ramming his animal penis into her sacred womb…
The thing inside Bob burst loose.
He was waiting for them as they left the church. Rice fell onto their heads, bouncing off her white gown and his black tuxedo. And, oh, were they smiling. The nigger was not known to be much of a smiler, but he was doing it now and those white teeth were shining and mocking him and saying “I got your woman now, boy, I’m gonna use her as I please, shore enuff” and she was smiling as well and she was laughing at him, “You silly little cracker boy, get out of my way so I can know a real man” but now they weren’t smiling and he was standing in their way and nobody else was looking yet as he raised his hand.
There was a flash of red.
As the nigger fell to the ground, Nadine turned to the side and reached out to him with her right hand stretched forward as if she might pull him back up into the living. Bob pointed towards her and pulled the trigger just as a man collided with him. He recognized the man’s touch. He had been tackled by the man a long time ago during practice sessions for high-school football. His aim got just a little off.
And then there was a flash of gold.
Nadine looked at her missing ring finger. “In a way, I was lucky. The bullet could have done much worse. Instead, it just went through here.” She poked her left forefinger through that space.
“You know…they never found the ring. Bits of the finger, but not the ring. Odd.”
She looked up. “But something odder happened that night. Something odd and beautiful.”
She hadn’t said a word ever since the shooting. She hadn’t even screamed or cried out in pain. As others pummeled and kicked Bob, she had sunk down to her knees, clutching her wounded hand to her gown, a red spot spreading out from under her hand and her face that of a sleepwalker. Despite the nausea and shock, she had managed to stay conscious. She still remained awake even after they had bandaged her hand and injected a sedative into her veins. Of course, you wouldn’t exactly call the empty look in her eyes ‘awake.’
Trapped in a comatose of her own design, the only thing she could see was the white ceiling of her hospital room. Sounds dimly registered in her ears–the quiet conversation of doctors and nurses, a bed being wheeled by, the hollow call of an intercom.
She became aware of two other voices. Even though they were coming from inside the room, they were fainter than the noises in the hallway. She couldn’t make out their words, though both voices had a sad tone.
Then there was a sudden crack, followed by something falling to the floor.
And she saw him.
And she heard him.
“You are my wife bound to me by a vow taken before God. No one will come between me and you. No one will keep us from knowing each other.”
And she felt him.
“He only came to me once. There is a limit to even what love can do. But once was enough to consummate our love. And to bring our son into the world.”
She smiled. “I let others think that Malcolm and I had gave into lust before our vows. I didn’t mind. What mattered is that I knew.
“I knew that my son had been born of two worlds as well as two races. I knew that he had been unlike anything the world had seen before, not since another birth nearly two thousand years ago.
“I’m not saying my son is a savior. I don’t know what he is exactly. But soon we all shall know.
“I’m telling this to you because I believe that you’re ready for it. I sense that you will accept the responsibilities with this knowledge.
“We must all look after him. We must help him and guide him and teach him. Because the time is coming when he must choose his destiny. He must understand his duties and face the world accordingly. He must do what is right under God.
“I know you’ll do well.
“Thank you for coming and God bless.”
Scully took the final step off the ladder and felt the earth beneath her feet. Mulder then dropped down next to her and stood by her side. They were both quiet and looking away from each other.
Finally, Scully said, “Have you heard anything like this before, Mulder?”
He slowly turned his head to her.
“Well, have you?”
“No, Scully,” he said. “I haven’t heard too many stories about ghosts who come back to pork the living.”
Mulder was jarred by the sight of his partner’s hot eyes and red cheeks. “What?” he said.
“That definitely ranks among the top five stupidest things you’ve ever said.”
“Wait a second. Wait one goddamned second. Are you telling me that you believe this story?”
“No. I’m not. I don’t.”
“Then what are you so pissed off about?”
“Because you don’t have any romance in you.”
Now, Mulder had to grin. “I think you’ve dissected one corpse too many, Scully. It’s given you a positive outlook on necrophilia.”
“You better stand back, Mulder.”
“Oh, come on,” he said, though he did take a step back.
“Don’t you find anything romantic about a man who loved a woman so much that he transcended death itself?” she asked.
Before he could answer, she added, “No! Of course not! You’re too busy playing Mr. Cool. Well, take your glib male, frat-boy, beer-swilling, porno-magazine, Comedy- Centralized sarcasm and shove it up your ass, okay?”
It was quiet again.
Then Mulder said, “Are you a big fan of ‘Ghost,’ Scully?”
“Yes, Mulder. I’m a big fan of Demi Moore’s inanimate face.”
“I’m glad you’re the one being sarcastic now because you were scaring me there for a moment. A necrophiliac Scully is one thing…”
“But a Swayzephiliac is another?”
Now, it was Scully’s turn to smile. “This is one of our sillier arguments.”
“I agree. Let’s move on to our standard argument.”
“I’m not sure we can have it. You don’t seem to believe Nadine Burnside’s story.”
“I have no idea what to believe, now. And I won’t get an idea until I get an inside look at the…at the, you know…”
“Yes and I resolve to say that without hesitancy.”
“Well, I agree with you on that. But A.C. Burnside doesn’t seem too eager to let us take a look.”
“Then we’ll just mingle with the crowd.” He put an arm around Scully’s shoulders. “Feel like the blues tonight, Scully?”
“Around you, Mulder, that’s a gratuitous question.”
Fred Udell could feel the shit building up inside him. The pressure was crushing his kidneys. He needed to wind up this meeting soon or his underwear was going to feel the wrath of his colon.
Unfortunately, he had to deal with another pain-in-the-ass — that mother-fucking high-school science geek Nathaniel Leed.
“I have yet to see any proof that this incident really took place,” Nathaniel primly declared, his bony arms crossed over his plaid shirt and his eyes looking at Udell stubbornly behind his wire-rimmed glasses.
“What the hell do you mean, proof?” Udell shouted. “What do you need to believe this happened?”
“Some sort of quantifiable evidence.”
“Oh, would you quit talking like a pussy?!”
That was Maggie Morrison. She was normally the biggest aggravation in Final’s chapter of the KKK. With her shaved head and unshaved armpits, she was an one-woman crusader against “the sexist patriarchal belief systems of the Klan.” She was determined to prove that “women were as important to the preservation of the white race as men.” Udell was seriously inclined to kick her out with one of her own combat boots and toss Nathaniel out with her. However, that would leave him alone with Ed.
Ed was not an aggravation. He never protested anything. He hardly even spoke except for the occasional grunt which the others had learned to translate. His eyes gave away none of his emotions, whether they were good-willed or malicious. The only time that you knew Ed was displeased was when he stood his six-foot-four inch body up, stomped his way towards you on his size twelve shoes, grabbed you with an arm of thirty inches width and rammed your face repeatedly into the ground.
Udell had once seen Ed single-handedly beat three huge niggers almost to death. When he approached Ed for Klan membership, Ed just nodded. Truthfully, Udell wasn’t sure that Ed believed in the Klan philosophy. More likely, he joined up so he could indulge in his favorite hobby — grievous bodily damage. Udell liked having Ed around, but he didn’t want to be alone in a room with him.
That’s why Udell had to take a breath and say, “Sorry, Maggie. I’m just a little frustrated with Nathan, here…”
“Nathaniel,” the teenage boy corrected.
“I’m a little frustrated with this BOY who can’t see the actual shit that’s going down.” Speaking of shit that was going down…oh, man…Udell looked at the bathroom that was so far away from his living room.
“Look,” Udell growled, trying to hold it in just awhile longer. “We killed a lot of people in that bar, right?”
“Yes,” Nathaniel said.
“Now, have you heard anything about this? Anything about it in the local news? Anywhere? Hell, some nigger in Texas gets dragged behind a car or some nigger in New York City gets a plunger shoved up his ass, everybody hears about it and they all start crying about what a fuckin’ injustice it is. We killed twenty niggers at least in that bar. That should have brought Jesse fuckin’ Jackson down on our heads.” Udell spread out his arms. “You see Jesse Jackson anywhere near?”
“I could point that logic in the other direction,” Nathaniel calmly replied. “Several African-Americans come back from the dead and no one talks about it?”
“He’s got a point there, Fred,” Maggie interjected.
Udell said, “Look, there’s…Mr. Grant told me…they weren’t…ah, hell!”
“I really fail to see what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Nathaniel stated.
“All right, all right. You talk to Mr. Grant. How about giving him some of your shit?”
“That’s an excellent idea.”
Udell blinked. “Huh?”
“I’ll call him up right now.”
Udell could feel his insides bubble and churn. “Now, wait. You shouldn’t go bothering…”
Nathaniel left his chair and sauntered to the kitchen. Udell heard him pick up the phone.
“I said, wait!” he shouted, his kidneys in a stranglehold. “You don’t go calling up a man like Mr. …”
Ed grunted. This particular grunt meant “Let him make the call.”
Udell doubled over as the pain become intolerable. He ran to the bathroom.
Nathaniel heard the bathroom door slam as the phone on the other end rang. He waited until he heard that cracked, scratched, torn-up voice say, “Yeah?”
“Mr. Grant, this is Nathaniel Leed.”
“Nathaniel Leed, Nathaniel Leed,” Julius mused. “You’re one of Udell’s men, ain’t you?”
Aren’t, Nathaniel thought, but only said, “Yes, sir. I am.”
“How did you get my number?”
“It’s written right above Fred’s phone.”
Nathaniel heard a brief sigh. It sounded like sawdust being poured out of a bag.
“That’s a private number. I would appreciate it if your grand poobah didn’t leave it around for every Johnny Cracker to find.”
“So what do you want anyway, boy?”
Nathaniel told Julius Grant what was on his mind.
Then he waited several seconds before Julius gave his response.
“That’s interesting. Real interesting. Sounds like you have a few doubts, boy.”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“Tell you what, then…did you know that the Shithole is open tonight?”
“No, sir. I didn’t.”
“Why don’t you and Fred take a drive on by there? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Nathaniel considered the proposal, then said, “All right, sir. I’ll do that.”
“Now, you’ve gone and put a smile on my face. Thanks for calling up, son.”
Nathaniel hung up and then went to the bathroom door.
“Fred, Mr. Grant said that you should take me down to the Shithole.”
“Whenever you’re done, of course.”
Why did they come?
One obvious reason was that something miraculous had happened there. Scary yet miraculous. Nothing like a miracle to give a place a certain aura that could draw you in.
Another possible reason is that they wanted to be there for the second act. There just had to be a follow-up to what happened. Not that they wanted a replay of that event, but…
It could have also been that it was their bar, goddammit. This was the place where they had fun. Why should they let anything keep them away from it?
Or maybe they just didn’t have a choice. They had to come.
In any case, the bar was full. Some of the people there had been present on that strange night. Some of them had only heard about it. A few didn’t know what the fuck was going on, but they could feel something bizarre was afoot. It was the quietest that the Shithole had ever been or ever will be. People only talked in whispers. There were glasses of liquor in many hands, but they were only being sipped from cautiously as if it was some kind of tea party.
Zola Burnside watched them all with her hands under her armpits. She had never felt nervous like this before. The bar was scarier when it was quiet. The Shithole’s normal kind of chaos was easier to understand. She knew what could be expected from open craziness.
She had no idea what would come out of this silence.
The bar opened at eight. Music was usually scheduled for nine. Tonight didn’t call for punctuality. The band could have waited till dawn to come out and their audience would have still been standing there quietly.
However, 9:00 still meant 9:00.
Malcolm Burnside, Jr. came out on the stage. He was wearing his usual jeans and casual shirt. He still had the same calm expression.
Every sound in the bar disappeared except for the ones he made. People looked at him as if the slightest twitch from Malcolm would reveal a mystery.
He was alone. He carried an acoustic guitar.
He looked at everyone. Every last person.
Then he did a little tuning of his guitar.
And he played.
He started out with a sixteen-bar instrumental that flowed from one note to the other like a river over rocks. Its sound slid past the patrons and echoed off the back wall.
Then he just strummed a rhythm and he sang…
“Oh, by and by, by and by “I’m going to lay down my heavy load.
“Oh, by and by, by and by “I’m going to lay down my heavy load.”
The voice touched everyone like a strong hand stroking up and down their backs. Zola closed her eyes. There was too much of her dead brother up there right now, too much of him in his son’s voice. She wouldn’t have been able to watch without crying.
“I know my robe’s going to fit me well. “I’m going to lay down my heavy load. “I’ve tried it on at the gates of Hell…”
As Malcolm sang “I’m going to lay down my heavy load,” his eyebrows lifted when he heard everybody sing with him.
“Oh, Hell is deep and a dark despair,” he told them and waited for a response.
“I’m going to lay down my heavy load,” the crowd answered.
“Oh, stop, poor sinner, and don’t go there.”
“I’m going to lay down my heavy load.”
Then they were all singing.
“Oh, by and by, by and by “I’m going to lay down my heavy load.”
Malcolm strummed one last chord, then stopped. He looked over the crowd again. Their eyes showed awe and even trust. They waited quietly for his next move.
He carefully placed his acoustic guitar in the corner. Then he motioned to someone offstage. A.C. came out with the drummer. A.C. was carrying two electric guitars. He handed one to his nephew and they both plugged in.
Malcolm turned to the audience and said, “Well, as Buddy Bolden used to say, ‘Let’s call the children home.’”
And the guitars and drums went right into a rhythm that seemed to circle around you, then slap you on your head. A.C. and Malcolm went up to the microphone, the former’s rough throat giving a nice underlying grit to the younger man’s pure voice.
“Well, I was gone. “Gone to the Army. “I was gone “For a long, long time.”
Shoulders started to sway. Heads began to bob. The floor was being tapped by dozens of feet.
“When I come back home, “My baby… “Still says she’s mine. “Still says she’s mine.”
The music abruptly stopped and the band looked at the audience. Without missing a beat, the listeners called out…
“SHE’S ALRIGHT, SHE’S ALRIGHT…”
The music crashed and boomed out another few quick notes.
“SHE’S ALRIGHT, SHE’S ALRIGHT…”
“SHE’S ALRIGHT, SHE’S ALRIGHT…”
The music picked up again and this time, nothing would stop it. The audience whooped it up and Zola smiled as she got three orders for A.C.‘s Home Brew.
Two slumming middle-class honky motherfuckers off the port bow, Ben Hedge thought as the two white people headed for the front door of the Shithole. He was going to take pleasure in telling them to get lost.
Ben Hedge had been in a tense, brittle mood. Getting killed can do that to you. He had spent the last few days in bed with Zola. They had less actual sex and more of just feeling and touching. They had come to know the fragility of their bodies in a way like never before. They needed to know that they were still warm and that their hearts were still beating.
Then A.C. called up and told Zola that he was opening the bar.
“He can’t be serious,” Ben said.
“It’s true. The Shithole will be open tonight.” She slipped out of bed and started to put on her clothes.
“You’re going to be there?” he asked in disbelief.
“Someone needs to serve the drinks.” She turned to him. “And someone needs to guard the door.”
Like everyone else in the bar, Ben couldn’t really explain why he came. One thing for sure, though…tonight, he’ll be standing guard on the outside rather than the inside. He did not want a repeat of the other night’s nasty surprise. Also, he didn’t want to be in that bar, didn’t want to get too close to its strangeness, didn’t want to look Malcolm, Jr. in the eye.
He could hear him, though, singing and playing his guitar. Its sweet sounds didn’t relax him. When the full blues band started up and the audience started cheering, he could only roll his eyes. This doesn’t change a damn thing about the situation, he thought. Man, I could sure use Zola’s pussy right now.
So, when the two well-dressed, white people got out of their car and headed for him, he was going to take pleasure in telling them to fuck off. He had seen their likes before — college kids, music critics, tourists looking for a kick of the “authentic.” “Say, honey, why don’t we go on down to that big bad blues joint everybody’s talking about?” Ben sometimes gently warned them that this wasn’t the place for them. Sometimes, he would let them in and then laugh when they came staggering out a half-hour later. Of course, there were a few who actually enjoyed the place and came back again like that guy from Texas. What was his name? Stevie something?
No way was he going let these two in, though. Before he could open his mouth, however, the tall dark-haired man pulled out a badge and said, “Agent Mulder. FBI.”
Well, ain’t that just a shit-and-a-half?
The male agent put away his badge and said, “My partner and I would like to come inside.”
Ben closed his eyes and sighed.
“Look, I have no idea why you’ve come but this really isn’t a good time.”
The male agent smiled at the music and cheers from the bar. “Sounds like a good time to me,” he said.
Ben opened his eyes and said, “Why don’t you come back later? Once the bar is clear…”
“Quit the bullshit, Ben.”
“Sally?” Ben said, looking left and right.
A woman stepped from around a corner of the bar, leaving the shadows that she had expertly used to hide herself. She didn’t look like the kind of woman who could sneak up on you. She was a hefty woman with stomach and breasts forming a cylinder shape that stretched out her police uniform. Yet, when she moved, there was a balance and sureness to her step. It was reflected in the low-key confidence of the face under her short black hair.
“Evening,” she said to the FBI agents. “I’m Sgt. Sally Ash. Meyer assigned me to watch over the place.”
“We don’t need…” Ben started.
“Don’t need what?”
Ben bit his lip and looked away.
“All kinds of stories been floating around, Ben,” Sally said nonchalantly. “Don’t know which ones are true and which ones are just crap, but I’m gonna be on the lookout, nevertheless.”
Ben said nothing.
“In the meantime, why don’t you go ahead and let these two people in?”
Ben tapped his foot on the ground, then opened the door for the FBI agents. The speakers were allowed to display their full volume to the outside. The agents winced at the sound but they went in.
After he closed the door, Ben turned to the female cop. “There’s nothing here that concerns the police, Sally.”
“Maybe. But the chief told me to stay here and I will.”
“Just because the chief is a good-looking man doesn’t mean that everything he says is…”
Sally took a step towards Ben. Her pug nose flared a little. “What do you mean, exactly?” she asked.
There were a few people that Ben actively avoided a fight with. Sgt. Ash was one of them. He held up his hands and said, “Forget I said it.”
Sally’s brown eyes looked Ben over. She said, “I’ll do my damnedest.” Then she went back into the shadows.
“Mulder, did you ever get the feeling that you were a little inconspicuous?”
“Whatever makes you say that?”
The two FBI agents tried to push their way through the crowd as politely as possible. Unfortunately, this one of the nights where the air conditioning decided to take a vacation. The sweat getting rubbed off other people was enough to dampen their clothes.
And, of course, they were getting the look. The look that says you’re a long way from Simi Valley, boys and girls.
They finally made it to the bar where the female bartender looked at them with no less suspicion. “May I help you?” she asked.
Mulder flashed the badge again, Those who saw it moved as far off as they could. Zola stood her ground defiantly behind the bar.
“So?” she responded.
“We’re investigating the possibility of a Klan attack on this place.” Mulder looked down at the bar. He rubbed his hands over spots where a hole had been filled up and painted over.
“Looks like you’ve done some repairs here.”
“And those bottles behind the counter…most of them are full as if you just put up new ones.”
Before Mulder could say something like, “Only with thread and needle,” he heard something. Or, rather, nothing. The music had gone away, leaving only ringing ears and an uncomfortable silence.
Mulder and Scully looked to the stage.
They saw A.C. looking straight back at them.
“It appears,” he said. “that we have a couple of first- timers here.”
It’s ass-kicking time, everybody thought. It’s the wrath of A.C.
“Thanks for coming on down,” the bar-owner said.
“Huh?” was the next thought on the collective mind. A.C. looked at their confused faces.
“What? Just because they’re white, they can’t be here? You think that black people are the only people who understand the blues? That you have to be poor and dirty to listen to it?”
A.C. shook his finger. “The blues is about heartbreak. It’s about love. It’s about the hardness of life.” He pointed his finger at Mulder. “Tell us something bad that’s happened to you.”
“Yes, you, you mammy-fucker! Any heartbreak in your life?”
“Well…my sister disappeared when I was twelve…”
“You see! Right there! That boy is not only entitled to listen to the blues, he could probably play them, too!”
A snicker involuntarily left Scully’s mouth.
“Oh, you can laugh, girl, but what about you? What sad, hard things have happened to you?”
Scully said, “I, uh…I once almost died of cancer and…”
“Damn! You could get a ten-record box set out of that shit alone! You see what I’m trying to say?”
The audience nodded.
“As far as I’m concerned, if you pay at the door, then I’m here to play for you and it don’t matter if you’re black or white or any color of the rainbow!”
The audience applauded. Mulder and Scully got patted on the back. They never felt so welcome in their whole lives.
Then A.C. narrowed his eyes.
“You DID pay at the door, didn’t you?”
Mulder and Scully looked at each other, then scrambled for their wallets.
“That’s right. Pay up, mammy-fuckers.”
Ben Hedge saw a pickup trick park a hundred feet away from the Shithole. At first, it looked like your standard redneckmobile — rusty bumpers, gun rack, long antenna, a “GOD BLESS JESSE HELMS” bumper sticker.
Then he recognized it as belonging to Fred Udell and his blood began to heat up. He found himself reaching for the gun under his coat.
“Feeling tense, Ben?”
Damn, she was back again. “Maybe,” he responded.
“I see Fred Udell is around,” Sally said. “Looks like that little creep Nathaniel Leed is with him.”
“Want me to talk with them?”
Ben hesitated, then said, “I won’t stop you.”
He heard no response. He looked around the corner and saw no one. He shook his head. How the fuck does she do that?
Then he turned back to the pickup truck. He found himself smiling.
“Now, you see that?”
“You hear all that music coming from inside?”
“And isn’t that Ben Hedge standing by the front door? The very first man we killed?”
“It certainly looks like him.”
“So, what do you think?”
Nathaniel kept quiet for a long time, his face emotionless.
“I may have to reassess the data,” he finally said.
Udell let loose a hard laugh. “Yeah, you…”
The truck door flung open and a meaty hand yanked Udell out. He landed onto a sidewalk that dug long, bloody scrapes up his hands. Before he could get up, Nathaniel was tossed on top of him, banging his nose into the ground. The bones in his nose gave off a distinct crunch.
“OWWW! Geb ob me! Geb ob me, you fugut!”
Nathaniel rolled off Udell. Udell turned around and looked up to see Sgt. Ash standing above him.
“Give me your knife,” she told him.
Above the hand covering the lower half of Udell’s face, his eyes were raging.
“Give me your knife now, Fred.”
With his fingers shaking, he pulled out the knife that he kept in a sheath tied to his lower back. Sally watched him calmly as he weighed his chances of sticking that knife in her throat.
Then he extended it, handle forward. She took it away and tossed it into the back of his truck. Nathaniel had a distant expression as if he was watching this conflict through a telescope.
“What are you two doing here?”
“You bwoke my nobe, you bizz.”
“You can consider that the start of a long night for your sorry self if you don’t tell me why you’re here.”
“We were curious about the bar,” Nathaniel said. “There have all been kinds of strange stories.”
Sally’s eyes shifted towards Nathaniel, but Udell could do nothing that could escape her notice. “You must have been real curious. A couple of Klanboys really shouldn’t be in this part of Final.”
“We were just passing through,” Nathaniel asked. “Might I ask what you’re doing here, Sgt. Ash?”
Sally watched Nathaniel carefully. She could handle Udell, but Nathaniel was dangerous in a way Udell would never be. There were rumors about ugly things that Nathaniel did in his parents’ basement.
“I’ve been assigned to watch the place tonight,” she said.
“That is between me and Chief Spiegelman.”
Udell snorted, then winced as the blood sprayed out across his mouth.
Sally turned her eyes back to him.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
Udell’s temper often got the better of him. This was one of those moments. “Meabing, bat’s the onlee think betweeb you and Spiegebmab.”
“Cob on, Sally! You think bat noboby sees it? Do you think bat the cheef is ever gobba fuct a horf like you? The onlee womab he wants to fuct is Nadib…”
In the next moment, Udell was standing up. Two arms were clamped around his back. His chest was lodged against the thick body of Sgt. Ash.
Then he felt his spine being squeezed.
Nathaniel wondered if he should try to help his leader. However, he doubted that there was much he could have done. Furthermore, he found himself fascinated by Udell’s screams, the veins widening in his temples, the blood shooting out of his nose.
The most interesting development occurred when there was a honk from the seat of Udell’s pants. A dark stain spread out and slid down his legs. A rancid smell was held tight in the hot Mississippi air.
Sally Ash was literally squeezing the shit out of Udell.
Ben watched all of this and his smile got bigger. Sometimes, it was more fun to watch somebody get beat up than actually doing the beating.
There’s this logical fallacy called Plato’s Beard. A young hotshot came up to Plato during one of his public bull sessions and asked, “How many hairs does it take to make a beard?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Five hundred?”
“Five hundred? But, surely one less than that wouldn’t matter?”
“No. It wouldn’t. So, four-hundred-and-ninety-nine hairs make a beard.”
“Yeah, but one less than that wouldn’t matter, either, would it?”
“No. I guess. Four-hundred-and-ninety-eight, then.”
“How about one less than that?”
Well, this went on and on all day until Plato found himself saying “No hairs make a beard.” He then went out and got drunk or buggered a young boy or whatever Greeks did when they got one-upped. The moral of this story is that some kind of limit has to be established in certain cases, however arbitrary. (Or you could be like A.C. and simply kick the mammy-fucker in the ass for asking such stupid questions.)
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully found themselves falling into Plato’s Beard that night. Their reasoning went like this — they were trying to blend in with the environment, attempting to get the trust of the people there. A lot of alcohol was being handed around and it would have been almost rude not to have a glass. And if one glass didn’t hurt, then why not another? The next wouldn’t be so harmful, either. And the one after that…
By the time the Shithole was officially closed (somewhere around 2 a.m.), Mulder and Scully were both leaning on the bar, holding on as if they were on a sinking ship. Ben and A.C. were prodding the other customers out of the bar while Zola counted up the receipts and Malcolm sat on the stage, quietly playing an acoustic guitar. “Any trouble out there?” A.C. asked Ben.
“Fred Udell and Nathaniel Leed showed up.”
A.C. raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ben giggled. “Sally Ash kicked their asses true and blue.”
“Are they still alive?”
“Not good enough,” A.C. growled. “Those mammy-fuckers ought to get themselves skinned alive.”
“As I recall, that was my original idea, but you talked me out of it. Remember?”
A.C. looked over at Malcolm and sighed.
“You know, A.C., it’s not like I’m ungrateful…”
“I know what you’re thinking, Ben. What the fuck is going on here? Well, I just don’t know. I’m not sure if even Malcolm knows.”
Ben nodded, then noticed Mulder and Scully. “What the hell happened to them?”
“What do you think happened?”
Ben shook his head and called out “Hey, you two, the bar’s closing!”
“Not until we get some answers!” Mulder declared, shaking his fist at no one in particular.
“It’s time you got your asses out of here,” Ben informed Mulder as he walked towards him.
The little red-haired woman stepped in his way. Ben’s eyes widened as she poked his big chest with her finger.
“You don’t understand,” she said slowly, wobbling slightly on her feet. “This is a scientific investigation. We are here to gather and collect data. All I’ve gotten are a…” She pulled out a wadded ball of paper napkins. “A lot of phone numbers from a lot of guys.”
“So did I,” Mulder said. “From women, I mean.”
“Well, that’s because you two are a pair of fine-looking white people,” A.C. explained. “Zola, wouldn’t you want Mulder’s nose digging into your pussy?”
Ben stiffened and was about to proclaim that a man shouldn’t talk to his sister like that. Zola cut him off by saying, “Ben’s is bigger.”
Ben reached up to touch his nose, then frowned at Zola. She smiled back at him.
“These sexual hijinks aside,” Mulder said, “we have yet to find a satisfactory…a satisfactory…”
“Explanation,” Scully suggested.
“Thanks. We have yet to find a satisfactory answer to the mysteries surrounding this bar.” He twisted his body so that his pointed finger was directed at Malcolm. “You are the key to all of it. I’m sure of it.”
“Why is that?” Malcolm replied with a lazy air.
“Because whenever I’m onto something…” Mulder stood up straight, a solemn look on his face. “…I get the same feeling. My balls start to itch.”
Then he began to laugh hysterically. Scully watched him for a moment, then she started laughing as well. Everybody else was wondering what to do with them when someone cleared his throat.
The sound came from the open door. They all turned to look.
The most evil man in the world walked in.
Well, maybe Julius Grant wasn’t the most evil man in the world. There are people who have probably caused more damage than he has. It’s just that he looked like the most evil man in the world.
The suit that he wore was expensive and sleek, but it only accentuated the sense of decay he gave off. It was hard to tell his age — maybe somewhere between 200 and 300. He had the appearance of a skeleton that had leather stretched over the bones and two yellow eyes stuffed into the eye sockets.
And like a skeleton, he was always smiling.
A.C. slowly nodded. “Evening, Mr. Grant. We didn’t hear your car pull up.”
“Oh, it’s a real nice machine. Got an engine softer than a cheerleader’s cunt.”
A.C. glanced outside to see Julius’s lovely car. The driver behind the wheel did not look so lovely. He was a huge man with a thick brow and scars over his face. He watched the bar with cold eyes.
“So, you must be wondering why I’m here,” Julius cheerfully observed.
“Yes,” Zola said. “We are.”
“I’m here because I’ve got a proposition for you. You know about The House of Solomon?”
“You’ll have to be dead not to have heard about it,” A.C. quietly replied.
“Well, I was wonderin’ if you would come on down tomorrow night and be the house band.”
Everybody was silent for many seconds. Then Malcolm Burnside, Jr. spoke.
“Why should we want to do that?”
Julius Grant turned to the young man sitting on the stage. He walked towards him with a slow yet steady pace.
“I can pay you well,” he told Malcolm. “Whatever money you lose from closing the bar for one night, I can double it.”
“I don’t doubt that you could. But is there some other reason why we ought to play there?”
Julius stopped, his grin a few feet away from Malcolm’s blank face.
“You might learn some things that you didn’t know before,” the old, evil man said.
Malcolm looked back at Julius, one hand around his guitar’s neck and the other tapping a finger on its body.
“We’ll be there,” he said.
A.C. opened his mouth to say something, but Malcolm silenced him with a look.
“That’s just dandy!” Julius declared. “I’ll see y’all tomorrow night!”
He hobbled his way to the door, then stopped to look at Mulder and Scully. They watched him with uncertainty and more than a little fear.
“You two are those FBI agents that the Chief called for, right?”
They could only nod.
“You two are drunker than a bunch of Shriners on Mardi Gras, you know that?”
Then he went out the door to his car, grinning all the way.
“Who in God’s name was that?” Mulder asked as the car drove off.
“That was Julius Grant,” Ben said. “That was also trouble. Malcolm, what the fuck are you up to?”
“Worried about something, Ben?” the man on the stage replied.
“Look, I know what you can…” Ben stopped himself.
“You can what?” Mulder squawked.
“No, what? What can Malcolm do?”
“Would you forget it? It’s time to close up.”
Mulder slapped his hand down at the bar. “I am not leaving and neither is my partner…” He thumped her on the shoulder in a gesture of solidarity that almost knocked her over. “…until we get some answers.”
Ben was about to move on to “the next level” when Malcolm said, “All right. We’ll give you answers.”
Ben, A.C. and Zola looked at Malcolm, startled.
“Terrific,” Mulder shouted out.
“Mind if we do it over a drink?”
“Sure. Why not? You down with that, Scully?”
“Only one more,” she muttered. “I’m driving.”
“All right,” Malcolm said. Then a smile crossed his face. “Have you two tried my uncle’s own brew?”
When Julius got back home, he found a message on his answering machine from Nathaniel Leed. He called the youngster up.
“How’s it hanging there, boy?”
“I stopped by the Shithole tonight. Apparently, your story had been confirmed.”
“Ah, you gone and made me smile again. So you back on the team?”
“I never left it, sir.”
Julius found himself laughing. He liked this boy.
“You should also know that we had a little trouble with Sgt. Ash.”
“Oh, my. What kind of trouble?”
“Damn. That Udell can get himself into more hot water than crabs in Massachusetts.”
“He did…exacerbate the situation more than he should have.”
Julius thought briefly, then said, “Would you do me a favor, Nathan?”
“Yes, sir. And it’s Nathaniel.”
“Oh, sure, sure. Nathaniel, would you tell me if anything is going sour? You know, warn me of any trouble?”
“By the way, sir, I have to say…this promises to be a most interesting enterprise.”
“Oh, son, the possibilities just make my cock get hard.”
Agent Fox Mulder was being torn apart. The separate parts were being washed by overweight Russian women who were dunking them into the river and then beating them with tennis rackets. Mulder did not find this a painful experience. In fact, he rather enjoyed it.
What he did not enjoy was being slapped in the face.
The slapping continued until he woke up. “Hey, hey!” he yelled as he batted away the hand of Police Chief Meyer Spiegelman.
Spiegelman straightened up and looked down at Mulder. He shook his head. “My federal tax dollars at work.”
Mulder was about to reply with a witty bon mot but a pain closed up his throat. It felt like Plato’s beard was growing inside his neck.
“If you’re wondering where your partner is, she’s over there.” Spiegelman jerked his thumb towards a couch. Dana Scully was laid out on it, looking like a discarded pile of laundry.
Spiegelman went up to the couch and whistled in her ear. She awoke with a great shudder.
“Dear God…” she muttered.
“You two had yourself a taste of A.C.‘s Home Brew, didn’t you?”
Mulder pulled up a weak memory of something charging down his throat and laying waste to his stomach. He also had a weak memory of him calling someone up on the phone.
“Oh, well,” Spiegelman said. “Few ever go to the Shithole for the first time and not wind up drunk. What would I like to know is why you were there?”
Scully raised up herself to a sitting position, an impressive achievement. “We were continuing our investigation.”
“Without me. Just like the way you talked to Reverend Burnside without me present. Oh, yeah, word of that got around to me. So, what the hell are you two up to?”
Mulder coughed. To his disgust, something dislodged in his throat and slid down. “Has Mrs. Burnside ever told you about the particulars of her son’s birth?” he managed to ask.
Spiegelman turned his head straight towards Mulder. “I don’t think I need to be told the particulars.”
“Well, she told us her own version about Malcolm’s conception…”
“You mean that story about the ghost of Malcolm, Sr. coming to her bed?”
Mulder’s head was starting to pulse. “I guess we’re not the only ones who has secrets.”
“There wasn’t any need to tell it to you.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Chief…” Mulder tried to get up, but he fell back into the chair as if a string yanked him back. “We investigate the paranormal. You knew that when you brought us here. It’s our job to look into stories just like…”
Spiegelman leaned down, placing one hand on an armrest of the chair. His face was close to the agent’s bloodshot eyes and his voice was vibrating unpleasantly in Mulder’s ears.
“Very few of us in town know about this little…belief of Nadine’s. We would like to keep it that way. She’s as good and pure a human being that ever walked this fucked-up world. That asshole Bob Hoag almost destroyed that goodness. If Nadine needs this story to keep her going, then I’ve got nothing against it. But I don’t want people to be getting the wrong impression about her.”
“I take it you don’t believe it.”
“What I believe, Agent Mulder, is Nadine and Malcolm, Sr. had a little fun before their wedding vows. That’s it.”
Spiegelman stood up. “I don’t think that I need you two feds on this anymore. You just go on back to Washington and chase after Yetis and E.T.‘s or whatever shit gets you turned on. But stay away from Nadine and her son.”
With that, Spiegelman left them. “There goes a very conflicted man,” Scully observed.
“I was tempted to ask him if he thought Nadine was the kind of person to be sexually active before marriage. Then I thought, ‘Hey, he just might beat the shit out of me for asking that.’”
“Are you saying, Mulder, that you believe her story now?”
“What do you believe?”
“I think that the chief’s explanation is more probable. What I can’t understand is why he even asked us down here in the first place.”
“Guilt,” a voice said.
Mulder and Scully turned to see Malcolm, Jr. They both realized that they were in the living room of A.C.‘s house. They also saw that his nephew was carrying two cups with steam rising out of them.
Mulder said, “If that’s coffee, I will be your slave forever.”
“Hmm. A white slave.” Malcolm thought about it, then shook his head. “Nah, I would hate wearing those white suits and drinking mint juleps.”
He gave the coffee to Mulder and Scully. Scully was about to take a sip when she said, “This isn’t your uncle’s own blend, isn’t it?”
“Nope. It’s as safe as Starbucks.”
Scully nodded and both agents took a moment to let warm caffeine soothe their smashed bodies.
“What was that you said about guilt?” Mulder asked.
“Meyer blames himself for not seeing Hoag in time to stop him. That’s why he’ll go out of his way sometimes to satisfy my mother’s whims.”
“They used to date, didn’t they?”
“How many people know about this story of your mother’s?”
“Just me, the chief, Zola and A.C.”
“What is your opinion of it?”
Malcolm smiled and raised an eyebrow. “You mean, do I believe that I’m the result of a sexual union between the living and the dead?”
“Well, do you?”
Malcolm sat down on the floor. He looked at his pants and picked at the lint.
“The chief was right about my mother. She’s as good as a person gets. And I do want to protect her reputation. But I also want to protect my own ass as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“Meaning, I don’t want a bunch of people at my door asking for a fucking miracle,” Malcolm said in a carefully controlled voice.
Mulder looked at the young man and said, “And it would be even worse if your mother’s story was true, wouldn’t it?”
Malcolm raised his eyes, the FBI agent reflected in their cool depths.
“There was once a man…a good man. He preached about loving your neighbors and helping the weak. He could also heal the sick and raise the dead. That didn’t keep him from a public execution, though.”
“And the name of this man,” Mulder said in a quavering Paul Harvey imitation, “this man who helped so many but got whacked anyway…his name was…”
Malcolm picked up a cushion and threw it at Mulder. Both of them laughed. Scully let out a sigh.
“Just drink your damn coffee,” Malcolm said.
“Might I ask a few questions?” Scully asked.
“Agent Scully, any woman who can wake up in your condition and still look pretty can ask me all the questions she wants.”
Scully rolled her eyes and said, “All right. Who is Julius Grant?”
Malcolm stopped smiling. “Oh, yeah. Him. Julius Grant is a very wealthy man, but he didn’t get that way selling computer software.”
“Let’s just say that it would be easier to list the number of illegal activities Grant hasn’t been involved in.”
“I take it that he’s a powerful man here in Final.”
“No, he just lives nearby. He’s never exercised his muscle in town. Nothing worth his interest here.”
“Except maybe you.”
Malcolm shrugged. “He’s a fan, I guess.”
Mulder and Scully looked at each other. They knew that something deeper was going on here.
“So, what is this House of Solomon?” Mulder asked.
Malcolm’s smile returned. “Thereby hangs a tale.”
Meyer Spiegelman sat at his desk. He had the look of a man too tired to move. Outside, his two fat patrolmen were laughing over their latest spic joke.
He unlocked one of his desk drawers and opened it. He stared at its insides for a long time. Then he slowly reached inside it.
Knock, knock. “Chief?”
Spiegelman swiftly closed up the drawer and locked it. “Come on in!” he called out.
Sally Ash came in and closed the door behind her. She sat herself casually in a chair. “You wanted to see me?”
“Just got a call from Fred Udell. Or Elmer Fudd from the sound of it. Says you roughed him up a bit.”
“Sorry, Meyer. I saw him pointing that rifle at Bugs and it got me all riled up.”
Spiegelman laughed briefly. “He was near the Shithole last night, I take it.”
“Yep. Wasn’t clear about why he was there, though.”
Spiegelman nodded. “Well, don’t worry about it. In fact, this whole thing is closed.”
“I don’t know. Seems like there’s still…”
“It’s done, Sally. It’s done.”
Sally looked at him for a moment, then said, “What about those two feds?”
“They’re out of it. Forget about them.”
“Nice-looking couple. Wonder if they have a thing between them.”
Spiegelman laughed. “Not a chance. You can bet that at least one of them is as queer as a Broadway chorus star.”
“Bet you it’s that Mulder guy. He looks just like that lawyer faggot on that t.v. show. You know, the one that’s living with some tall redhead? I forget the name of that show. Seems like there are a lot of lawyer faggots on t.v. nowadays. Of course, Scully…I mean, she’s got that feminist ‘don’t-bring-your-dirty-dick- here’ attitude…”
Then Spiegelman saw the disgusted expression on the patrol woman’s face. “What is it?” he asked.
She stood up and said, “They’re not gay.”
“All right. They’re not gay. What’s got you pissed off?”
“Because, at the very least, they respect each other. That you can look at that respect and think it’s there because…”
She threw up her hands in the air and stormed out of the office.
Spiegelman smiled and shook his head. He had gone through this sort of thing before with Sally Ash. She was his oldest friend. Their relationship had started in grade school. They had always backed each other up in the schoolyard fights and, Lord, they sure needed back-up. A Jew in Mississippi and a homely girl (which Sally was, let’s face it) in any state were bound to get their share of taunts, not to mention physical threats. There had been long, hard battles, but, eventually, the team of Meyer Spiegelman and Sally Ash become something no one wanted to mess with.
Still, every now and then, Spiegelman would say something that would set her off. The first time had been back in high school. He had suggested in all seriousness that she should join the football team. She was tougher and faster than a lot of the pussies he captained and wasn’t it enlightened of him to make the offer?
Man, did that get him in trouble.
She evidently apologized for her outburst, though she never explained why got her panties all twisted up. There had been other incidents like this. Once, they had been on stakeout in a car and he noticed that she was wearing some kind of extremely sweet perfume. “Don’t roll down the window,” he jokingly told her. “The flies will flock on you like you’re a dead raccoon.” Another time, she had blown her stack when she had invited him to see some crappy romantic movie with Meryl Streep or Sally Field or some other bitch who gets paid a million dollars for crying. He had diplomatically suggested that they try Eastwood or Schwarzennegger instead. Both his joke and his suggestion had gotten him chewed out.
Always, she would apologize later, but never explain. This latest fight would undoubtedly resolve the same way.
If there was one solid constant in his life, it was Sally. And if there was anybody’s respect that he had gotten without being a hard-ass, it was her. She was his partner. She was his best friend.
Dammit, where did that bitch go off to?
He sighed and unlocked the drawer again.
“Oh, my God!”
“What? What is it?”
“We got really drunk last night.”
Mulder looked at Scully as she drove the car. “You finally realized this?”
“I finally realized the implications of it.”
“Well, I won’t say anything about it if you won’t.”
Scully shook her head, which was still feeling a bit heavy. She and Mulder had redressed and showered and waited a long time before their hangover had subsided. Now, she was driving them carefully over a dirt road. An occasional dip or pot hole would jar them unpleasantly. The afternoon sun flashed repeatedly through the trees around them, creating an annoying strobe effect. The mansion of Julius Grant was, hopefully, only a few miles away.
“I never got that drunk before,” she said.
“No, really, Mulder.”
“I mean, I’ve gotten drunk, but not bad like that.”
“Whatever you say, my little Irish Catholic sidekick.”
Scully opened her mouth to retort, but decided to drop it. Instead, she said, “So, what do you want to ask Julius Grant?” She turned the car around a bend.
“I would like to…LOOK OUT!!”
Mulder could have also said, “Look out for that elephant,” because there was, in fact, an elephant heading their way. A big, grey, stomping elephant, his black eyes staring blankly at the little rental car in its path.
Scully swerved the car to the side, the brake shrieking. A ditch pulled the car down and a shudder was felt all through the agents’ spines. Then another shudder hit them from the front as they plowed into the ditch’s bottom, yanking their bodies back and forth before the car was trapped with the engine uselessly running.
The crash was too much for Mulder. A stomach that had already taken the abuse of his alcoholic binge declared a holy war against its own occupants. A yellow-green matter was expelled and Mulder bent over to let it drop out of his mouth and onto his shoes.
He regarded the lumpy pile on his shoes for a moment, then he looked up.
The elephant was right beside them. Mulder and Scully noticed that it had a rider.
Julius Grant looked down at them with eyes as blank as the elephant’s. He wasn’t smiling. There was no doubt that the elephant would walk all over their car if he prodded it in their direction.
He said nothing for a few long moments.
Then he grinned.
“Sorry about that. Give you folks a lift?”
When the most evil man in the world offers you a ride on his elephant, what do you say?
Mulder and Scully reasoned it like this:
1) They were here to question Julius Grant.
2) They wanted to do it at his house and not in the middle of the damn forest.
3) While they weren’t particularly keen on being up there with Julius, they didn’t want to walk alongside that pachyderm either, just in case it made any sudden moves.
So, they there were, bouncing twenty feet off the ground. Stonewall the Elephant came equipped with only two harnesses to hold onto. While Julius rode up near the head, Mulder and Scully were in the uncomfortably intimate position of having her bottom nestling in his groin while he reached around her for the reins that they were both clutching onto. While this could have been the opportunity for a million erotic quips, the only thing that went through both of their minds was, “Please, God, don’t let me fall off this fucking elephant.”
“I’ll send my boys around to get your car out,” Julius called back to them. “Real sorry about running you off the road like that. Guess I should be more careful about where I take Stonewall out for a ride.”
They didn’t need to see his face to know he was still grinning. They also knew that Julius could take out his elephant anywhere he pleased around here.
“You’re probably wondering why I’ve got something like Stonewall for a pet.”
They said nothing. They just held on.
“Sometimes, I wonder that myself. He’s a son-of-a-bitch to kept washed and fed and he drops turds the size of basketballs. And when he gets horny…whoo-eee, look out! But every day I wake up, I look out my window and think, ‘Goddamn! I’ve got an elephant!’”
Julius laughed. He sounded like a crow who just saw every animal in a zoo instantly die.
After a couple of unsteady, shaky miles on the Stonewall Express, they arrived at the mansion of Julius Grant. A couple of cold-eyed men helped them off Stonewall after he knelt on the ground. Their hands were calloused and brusque in their touch.
Mulder and Scully looked at the mansion.
It seemed that not only did crime pay, but it offered a comprehensive health plan. The mansion stood in the middle of a forest clearing, accompanied by a lake, an two-story garage, a farm, a helicopter pad, Stonewall’s private zoo and a fountain with a statue of a naked lady in its center. With its stained glass windows, balconies and oak doors, the mansion itself was an irrefutable testament to Julius Grant’s wealth.
“Nice place, huh?” Julius said. “I call it the Conspicuous Consumer.”
“Thorstein Veblen,” Scully said.
“‘A Theory of the Leisure Class,’” Julius added and his eyes gleamed when he saw Scully look surprised.
“Bet you thought that I didn’t know who Veblen was, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t always. I may be a rich hillbilly, but I’m still a hillbilly. I never heard of Veblen and his whole ‘conspicuous consumption’ shit until Malcolm, Jr. told me about it. You see, my car blew out a tire on a street in Final. A $75,000 car and it blows out a goddamned tire. Well, my driver was replacing the wheel and we’ve got the local hayseeds on the street staring at me and I was feeling mighty cocky. Then Malcolm came on walking down the street. That caught my eye ‘cause a black boy just doesn’t go walking in certain parts of Final, even if he’s the preacher’s son. But he didn’t look worried. He was 10 years old then, but even then he had a…a certain look. Anyway, he stopped by my car and he was giving it the eye. Not like ‘oh, my dear Lord, I would give my left ball to have a machine like that.’ He was just looking at it. I said…
“‘See anything you like, boy?’ “Then he turned to me and said, ‘That’s an act of conspicuous consumption.’
“I say, ‘What?’ That’s a lot of syllables to hear coming from a 10-year-old boy’s mouth. He goes on to explain to me Thorstein Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption which is a fancy way of saying, ‘The rich got it so they flaunt it.’
“‘Well, what’s wrong with that?’ I asked.
“‘Camels through the eyes of needles, Mr. Grant,’ he replied and then went on his way, a guitar at his side.’”
Julius laughed. “That Malcolm. He always was a smart one.”
“Is that why you’ve taken an interest in him?” Mulder asked.
Julius kept smiling, but there was an extra meaning to his smile now. Here there be tigers, boy.
“Come on inside,” he said.
They entered the Conspicuous Consumer. Mulder and Scully weren’t too surprised to feel thick carpets under their feet, to see a couple of Van Goghs and to smell from the kitchen something unrecognizable but undeniably rich and covered in butter.
“So,” Julius said after he sat himself down in a chair, “what the fuck is your business with Malcolm anyway?” His tone was as cheerful and cozy as ever.
Scully said, “We’re investigating the reports of a shooting down at the…” She closed her eyes briefly. “…the Shithole.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve heard of that. Sounds like nonsense, don’t you think?”
“You don’t think people can come back from the dead, Mr. Grant?” Mulder asked.
Again, that crow-laugh. “I hope not. There are a lot of people who died cursing my name.”
“Then I guess those are merely collectibles?”
Mulder pointed at a glass case. Inside was a old leather book centered on a black cloth. It was surrounded by medallions, crystals and painted sticks with feathers tied to them.
“I’m recognizing artifacts from several various cultures in that case — Muslim, Native American, African, Asian, Haitian.”
“I’ve been around.”
“However, there is one thing that they have in common. They’re all supposed to be healing charms, capable of even raising the dead itself.”
Julius slowly nodded. “You sure know your shit, Agent Mulder.”
Mulder smiled. “I know it when I smell it.”
The smile on Julius’s face was rigid as Mulder went up to the glass case. Scully watched them both.
“I don’t recognize this book, though. ‘The Swamp Bible.’”
“Just a collection of folklore,” Julius said evenly. “Quaint backwoods legends.”
Scully decided to change the subject. “We understand that you’re hiring the Shithole’s house band to play at an establishment of your own.”
The threatening look disappeared from Julius’s face. “That’s right,” he told her with a grin.
“We would like to be present there tonight.”
Julius raised an eyebrow. “Why’s that? Don’t tell me that two fine-looking people like yourself are in need of the House of Solomon and its services.”
“If anything violent did happen at the Shithole, my partner and I would like to make sure that it does not repeat itself.”
The grin deepened. “I assure you, Agent Scully…the Klan know better than to try to attack one of my businesses.”
“That depends on what their intent is,” Mulder said.
“Intent? Agent Mulder, the only intent that the Klan has is to wipe out as many black people it can from the Earth.”
“I don’t know.” Mulder walked casually towards Julius. “I think that if an attack did take place at the Shithole, I don’t believe it was for their usual reasons.”
Julius watched the agent as he got closer to him. “And why do you think that they did it?”
Mulder stopped right in front of the old man. He looked down at him. “I think that it was a test.”
“A test of what?”
Mulder watched the old man in silence. Julius returned the look.
Then Julius laughed. “You like coming across as all mysterious, don’t you, boy?”
Mulder shrugged. “Only when someone is jerking my chain. Thank you for your help, Mr. Grant.”
“Well, don’t jerk my chain, Mulder. What was that all about?”
Scully addressed this question to Mulder after they had gotten back to their car. Julius’s cold-eyed henchmen had towed it out of the ditch and brought it back to the Conspicuous Consumer. They didn’t say a word as Mulder scraped out the vomit and then drove off with Scully.
“Everybody in this damn town knows what happened in that bar,” Mulder said. “In fact, I believe that I know, but nobody will confirm it.”
Scully hesitated before saying, “You think that Malcolm Burnside, Jr. healed everyone who was shot in that bar.”
“You see!” Mulder threw his hands into the air. “You know it, too!”
“No, I don’t know that, Mulder.”
“Well, I can’t figure out what the hell else it could be. I mean, we do agree that something is being hidden.”
“And that it is connected to Malcolm somehow.”
“Well, maybe. But that’s…” She shook her head. “Maybe our chain really is being jerked, Mulder. Maybe we’re being set up for something.”
Mulder thought about that, then sighed.
Scully said, “I know you want to look to the fantastic, but…”
“No, no. It’s possible that you’re right. Still, if someone is fooling around with us, I want to know why. I think we should keep an eye on Malcolm and see…what’s the matter?”
“No, I agree with you.”
“But you made a face there.”
“I’m…I’m not too crazy about going to this place.”
“The House of Solomon? Why? Doesn’t sound anything we can’t handle.”
“I don’t know. Malcolm gave me the impression that it’s out there even for…its kind of business.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll be okay.”
Scully glanced at Mulder, then smiled.
“That’s easy for you to say, Mulder. Your video collection has been readying you for this.”
“Right, Scully. I’ve brought enough Kleenex for everybody.”
Julius paced in his living room. That son-of-a-bitch Mulder had rattled him a little. Clearly, he wasn’t just some dumb government employee. And he had that scrappy little redhead to back him up.
A slight alteration was needed for tonight’s plans. What to do, what to do?
Then he snapped his fingers and picked up the phone, a white ivory creation with a receiver shaped like a swan’s neck. He wrapped a handkerchief around the mouthpiece and dialed a number.
“Hello, is this Johnny McDonald?” he said in a high- pitched voice. “The Johnny McDonald of Young Christians for Change?…I’m calling to warn you as a fellow man of God. Reverend Burnside’s son is going to be playing tonight at the House of Solomon…oh, yes, it’s true….Ooooh, I know. It’s horrible. You must do something about it….Thank you very much, my good man. No, I’m just a fellow Christian who wants to do right before the Lord. Good-bye.”
There. That little pissant could be useful after all. Now he could…
The phone rang. Julius had a lousy feeling about who was calling him.
He picked up the phone. “Yeah?”
“Mistuh Gwant, izz me.”
“Yeb. I’m tawking fubby becuz…”
“Sgt. Ash broke your nose.” Julius had to grin. “I heard about it.”
“I wat dat bizz ded.”
“One thing at a time, Fred.”
“No, I wat dat bizz ded NOW!”
“LOOK, YOU LITTLE COCK-SUCKING HAYSEED, I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO DOES THE YELLING! GOT THAT?!”
A very, very long moment of silence.
Then Udell said in a meek voice, “I’b sorry, Mistuh Gwant.”
Julius took a breath, then said, “It’s okay, Fred. I just want to make sure that this plan goes smoothly.”
“Um, Mistuh Gwant…”
“Wat iz the pwan ezatly?”
Udell could almost hear Julius’s grin over the phone. “I’ll give you a hint, Fred. You’re going to have a lot of back-up soon.”
Nadine Burnside walked by the side of the road. Passing motorists would slow down and turn their heads to stare at this goddess passing down the dusty streets. Some would call out, “Good afternoon, Reverend Burnside,” and she would nod graciously to them. Normally, Nadine would stop to talk with them, but today she continued on her way. No one tried to engage her in conversation. Everyone could sense that she had something on her mind, despite her usual serene appearance.
Eventually, she reached the house of A.C. Burnside. Her brother-in-law and her son were loading speakers into the car. They stopped what they were doing when they saw her coming.
Malcolm whispered a few words to A.C. who nodded. Then Malcolm walked away from his uncle, meeting Nadine in the street.
“Hello, son. I’ve just got done talking with Johnny McDonald.”
Malcolm sighed. “And what did he want?”
“He wanted to tell me that you were playing at the House of Solomon tonight. Is this true?”
Malcolm crossed his arms over his chest. “Yes.”
“That may not be a good idea.”
“No, it may not. But I feel like it has to be done.”
Nadine looked down at the ground. “Why?”
“Because Julius Grant has had his eye on me for some time. He knows what I am. And I have to know what he has planned for me.”
“He is a sinner.”
Malcolm laughed. “That’s like calling a redwood just a tree.”
Nadine looked up and touched his face with her four- fingered hand. “Don’t do it,” she said.
Malcolm gently pulled her hand away from his face and squeezed it. “Mother, we decided a long time ago that I have to go my own way. That’s why I’m living with A.C., remember?”
“I know, I know.”
Both of them kept quiet for a few moments. Then she smiled and kissed him once on the cheek. She walked away and he went back to A.C.
“What did your mama have to say?” his uncle asked.
“She didn’t want me to play at the House of Solomon.”
“I ain’t too crazy about the idea, either.”
“Well, we’re doing it anyway, goddammit.”
“Why? What the fuck are you supposed to learn?”
Malcolm gave A.C. that look, the one in which he appeared to be watching you through a bombsight. “I’m going to learn just where everybody stands,” he said.
A.C. cleared his throat. “And then?”
Malcolm shrugged, then said, “Give me a help with this damn speaker, will you?”
When Nadine returned to her treehouse, she found Johnny McDonald pacing through the grass underneath it.
“Well?” he snapped when she arrived.
“Malcolm has already made his decision.”
Johnny stamped his foot. “What he decided is not important! What’s important is he…”
Nadine raised a finger and placed it on Johnny’s lips. “Shhhh,” she said. Johnny’s mouth was silent as she pulled her finger away. He stared at her with blinking eyes.
“I’m very sorry that you have gotten indirectly involved in this,” she told him. “Please leave this between my son and myself. It’s in your best interests, Johnny.”
Her voice caressed his ears like water down his back. He felt hot below his belt as those eyes looked at him and those lips smiled at him and that skin sweated ever so lightly right near her…
He shook his head and roared, “Do not try to tempt me, you harlot!”
Nadine stopped smiling and raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“Why this town has tolerated you as our spiritual leader is beyond me. You’re obviously a fallen woman, living in this…this…this hippie house and raising a son who plays the devil’s music in the devil’s home…”
“Get to the point, Johnny,” Nadine sighed.
Johnny raised a fist and shook it. “I’ll have no more of this. If you won’t rescue your son from damnation, I will.”
He started to march away, but the reverend grabbed him by the arm. He tried to shake it off, but Nadine Burnside’s grip was much stronger than he had thought it was.
“I don’t know what you have planned, Johnny, but the House of Solomon is owned by Julius Grant. You don’t go messing with someone like that.”
Johnny sneered. “I have no fear. I have the Lord on my side.”
Nadine looked at Johnny, then released him. “I sincerely hope so,” she told him. Then she climbed her ladder back into the treehouse.
Johnny watched her climb up, feeling as bewildered as ever. (He was also looking at her well-rounded bottom.) Then he straightened his back and left the treehouse, ready to crusade against the House of Solomon.
Which is precisely what Julius Grant wanted.
The House of Solomon was located twenty-five miles away from Final. To get there, Mulder and Scully had to follow a set of directions more convoluted than a Agatha Christie novel. More than once, they wondered if A.C. meant for them to take a right at THAT tree or if they were supposed to be crossing THIS bridge or whether THESE directions were in fact a load of crap. The last hours of daylight dripped away as they went through wide barren landscapes and drove through claustrophopia-inducing forests. They indulged in a lot of cursing and snide insults towards the other.
Then, suddenly, there it was.
They had driven into a valley located between two hills. The hills had long brown patches of dirt running through sharp patches of trees. Hanging above them was a full moon. They saw it just as turned a corner on the gravel-covered road and they wondered why they had so much trouble finding the place. It didn’t seem like you could miss it.
A fleet of cars were parked in front of the House of Solomon. As they found their own parking spot, they noticed that their own car looked extremely cheap and unstylish next to the vast exhibit of pricey cars whose well-polished metal shined in the moonlight.
They got out of the car and looked.
The House of Solomon was a massive dome in the middle of the Mississippi badlands. Its color was mostly light pink except for a circle of red on top. Windows were scattered all over in crooked lines, some dark and some with lights shining through the lace curtains. All of them were closed. A garden of flowers nestled at the bottom and it had a sweet scent that could hit your nose from a hundred yards away. Carved into the surface were images of men and women performing the sort of things that the Greek royalty did in their waning years, complete with grapes, yards of rope and the occasional bull. Barely visible was the pink front door. Its thin frame was almost buried under the long dark fur draped over it.
Mulder looked at the front door and said, “The subtlety is astounding.”
“I think I can guess what the back door looks like,” Scully added.
“Or what the whole place looks like from above. Notice that little bump on top?”
“I saw it, Mulder. I saw it.”
“Can you imagine all the planes circling around…”
“Let’s just go inside, okay?”
They found a path that led straight to the door. The path was long, straight and pink-colored. The doormat looked like a red helmet.
“You better knock on the door,” Scully said, “because I’m sure not going to do it.”
Mulder took a breath, then pushed his hand through the fur to the door.
The door opened itself up. Light from a long red hallway brushed through the fur.
Mulder grinned at Scully. “If only it was always that easy.”
Meyer Spiegelman and Sally Ash watched Scully push Mulder through the door.
“Fuck,” Spiegelman said. “I should have known those two wouldn’t listen to me.”
“Maybe they’re here for the services.”
Spiegelman smirked. “Maybe. Personally, I think they just don’t know when they’re not wanted.”
Sally turned to the police chief. She was sitting next to him in a police car discreetly located far off from the House. She studied his handsome profile for a long time. He took no notice of her. His testy eyes were focused on the House.
Finally, she said, “Meyer?”
“Why are we here?”
Spiegelman sighed. “I already told you. Reverend Burnside…”
You mean Nadine, Sally thought.
“…told me that Malcolm was going to be playing here tonight. She wanted to make sure nothing bad would happen.”
“Then why aren’t we inside?”
“Because I don’t want to be around all those freaks. If Malcolm needs our help, I’m sure we’ll be able to know from right here.”
“Or maybe we’re staying outside because you don’t see any point in being here. Maybe you just want to tell the reverend we were here to clear your conscience.”
Spiegelman turned his head to her. “You didn’t have to come,” he said in a low voice.
“Well, I’m here. And it’s a long walk back to town. So I’ll stay.”
So, they continued to sit there and watch. And, boy, did they ever get to see something.
The hot light of candles was everywhere. At least fifty were in every hallway, suspended over your head in curved holders that kept three candles apiece. The light was absorbed into the red wallpaper and ricocheted off the gold- painted doorknobs and hinges. (At least, it was assumed that they weren’t actual gold.) The candles burned off a perfume scent that pleased the nostrils until you realize that its purpose was to cover up another smell.
The House of Solomon was cleaned and fumigated every morning, but there had been too many nights of perversion and weird sex. The stink of every bodily fluid known to man hovered at the edge of your senses like a ghost. You just knew that if you opened the wrong door, that it would suddenly become strong enough to make you gag.
Mulder and Scully stood in the front hallway. They saw an end that branched off to the left and right. A moan, a cough or a sigh would sneak out from under a doorway.
They stood there, not knowing where to go.
“Why are you here?”
They both jumped at hearing the voice that popped out of a hidden speaker.
“Why are you here?” the voice repeated. It was a quiet, assured voice, patience but not tolerant of inefficiency.
“Uh,” Mulder said. “We’re here to see the band?”
The voice gave them directions to the right room and then politely requested that they “enjoy themselves.”
The two FBI agents followed the directions. Along the way, they met a few people…
A naked woman riding on a man. The man was naked, too, except for the horse’s head that he was wearing. She kept slapping him with a whip as he carried her through the House. They passed the FBI agents, the woman crying “giddyup” and the man neighing.
Another naked man who was dragging himself very slowly across the carpets. Great red burns were being scratched into him from his neck down to his feet. His groans were not just of displeasure, though. Mulder and Scully were careful not to step on a thin, sticky line he was leaving behind him.
A third man, clothed this time. He was dressed up like Britney Spears from that video where she dances in a school hallway. A tape recorder was playing the video’s same song that he was miming perfectly through his highly-glossed lips. His shaved legs were doing a good imitation of her dance routine. Even his eyes had the same weird glassy stare.
Mulder and Scully squeezed past him. “It’s okay,” Mulder said. “There’s nothing here we can’t handle.”
Then they came to the right room. The sound of electric guitars being tuned could be heard as well as laughter and groans. And an occasional twangy sound like rubber being stretched.
They looked at each other again and then Scully knocked on the door.
The door was opened by a woman. No, it was opened by a man.
Actually, it wasn’t clear. He/she was standing there in a tuxedo that gave no indication of what was underneath it. The face had long lashes and powder over the cheeks, but there was something strangely hard about the jaw. A high collar kept you from seeing the presence or absence of an Adam’s apple.
Both Mulder and Scully wondered what he/she was. They also wondered if it was wrong to think that he/she looked quite attractive.
“Please come in,” the door greeter said in a deep voice as indeterminate as his body.
Mulder and Scully stepped in. The door was closed. They looked around them.
“We can handle this, too,” Mulder said.
The room was as long as a basketball court, though the ceiling was located at a regular height. Here, the light was provided by glaring cone-shaped lamps. The walls were yellow and not red. (The color reminded Mulder of something, but he couldn’t quite remember.) There were around twenty people in the room besides A.C., Malcolm and the drummer. The three musicians were located on a small six-inch-high platform. Like Mulder and Scully, they were staring at the other people with puzzlement and uneasiness.
A man was strapped to a swivel chair. Two female bodybuilders were taking turns with him, sitting in his lap and kissing him, then slapping him so hard that he was facing the other one. A man was dressed like a eighteenth- century nobleman and reading John Locke out loud while another man pressed his mouth against his bulging pantaloons. Two women were standing with their backs pressed against each other, reaching around to each other’s groin. For some reason, both were covered in sawdust. That twangy rubber sound Mulder and Scully had heard came from a man whose belt was attached to a short bungee chord. He would be pulled up and then fall back down again. Everytime he would be within touching distance of the ground, he would try to grab hold of a naked woman lying on the ground, then push his tongue down into her vagina. The woman would accept this for awhile, then push him away, sending him flying back to the ceiling.
There was even a couple practicing straightforward hetero sex in the missionary position which made you wonder why they came here in the first place.
The band stood at the center of all this. They were supposed to be bringing music to this scene. The drummer looked like he wanted to bolt, but not before he clobbered A.C. with his own guitar.
Then Malcolm gave him a look. The drummer sighed and picked up his sticks.
“Call the children home?” A.C. asked.
“Call the children home,” Malcolm replied.
They began to play. As the drummer pounded out a beat that cows would dance to, A.C. and Malcolm stood up to the microphone. They sang together, the big, rough voice of A.C. and the smooth throat of Malcolm mixing together to make something that belonged in both a church and a brothel.
“Good morning little schoolgirl… “Good morning little schoolgirl… “Can I come home… “Can I come home with you…”
In a room full of television monitors, Julius Grant watched Malcolm’s band with the supervisor of the House of Solomon, Mr. Rogers. Rogers was a man dressed in a gray suit whose unperturbed eyes watched the monitors behind gold-rimmed glasses.
“The band seems to be performing quite well,” Rogers commented.
“What would know about music, you soulless cocksucker?” Julius said in a friendly tone.
“Not much, I suppose, sir,” Rogers replied without missing a beat.
“Well, you’re right. But this was just an excuse to get him…” He pointed at Malcolm. “…up here. But, unfortunately…” His withered finger moved towards another tv monitor. Mulder and Scully could be seen there, keeping as much as distance as they could from everyone else in the same room. “…they are here, too. When the time is right, I want you to arrange a little distraction for them.”
“But, for now…let’s just enjoy the show.”
Malcolm had had enough. He was used to the rowdiness of the Shithole, but this was different. Nobody was paying attention to them. They could have been a stereo as far as these idiots cared. They went through “T.V. Mamma,” “Rolling and Tumbling,” “Terraplane Blues,” “Tiger in Your Tank,” and “Shave ‘Em Dry,” playing as hard as they could. No one applauded or even watched them. The only one who noticed them was the guy who had — for some unfathomable motivation — taken an erotic fascination with Malcolm’s acoustic guitar. Malcolm had to keep looking behind him at the guitar as it laid next to the speakers. More than once, the guy was there, licking the strings and pressing his chest against the wood. It didn’t matter Malcolm would run back there and give him a swift kick, still keeping perfect tempo on his electric Gibson. The asshole kept coming back for more.
The low point was when they did “What I’d Say” and…not…one…of…those…mammy-fuckers…sang along. Goddammit, that was a song you were legally required to sing along with. When Malcolm and A.C. moaned, “ooooh,” the audience was supposed to replicate the sound. Instead, they got…well, a lot of moans but very unmusical ones. Not the one they were supposed to hear. They did it again and again, but still nothing in return. Still, they plowed on ahead to the next call-and-response section. This time, they did hear audience participation, but only in the form of two atonal voices from the back. Malcolm looked that way and saw Mulder and Scully shrugging their shoulders.
That did it. Malcolm waved his hand for silence. A.C. and the drummer stopped playing.
“I’m going to try something,” Malcolm said.
He put aside his electric guitar and then plugged in his acoustic into the speakers (after kicking away the acoustic guitar’s unrequited lover again.) His bandmates watched him carefully as did Mulder and Scully.
As did Julius Grant.
“I’m going to do a little Memphis soul,” Malcolm told the audience. No one cared until two notes drifted through the room, gentle as snowflakes yet also pained and anguished.
Just as gently, the acoustic guitar added a rhythm.
“…to lay down…
“…here alone, dear…”
The slapping, groping, sighing and bouncing stopped in the room. People were looking at the stage in fascination.
“…I can’t help…but wish you were here…”
The only thing to be heard in the room was Malcolm’s voice. The people next door stopped their own special activities and listened. In fact, everybody in the House of Solomon became still and quiet, even the ones out of the voice’s range.
You didn’t have to hear it. You could feel it.
“…I’ve done you wrong…and now you’re gone…what can I do…”
In the police car, Meyer Spiegelman reached inside his jacket and touched the contents of a pocket. Inside was the thing that he kept hidden in his desk drawer. Occasionally, he would carry it with him, despite the fear of discovery.
Yet, right now, he didn’t care if anybody asked him what was in his pocket. He was just conscious of something that spoke of loss and sad memories.
Sally Ash could feel the same thing and she was looking at the chief, not caring what would happen if he turned to see the expression on her face. She didn’t care that he might see a longing that even his foolish blindness couldn’t miss. She just stared at him with moist eyes and dared to hope.
“…don’t make spend…the rest of my life…forgetting you…”
“My God, my cock is HARD!” Julius cackled. “HARD!”
Julius looked at Mr. Rogers. He noticed that the House’s supervisor had taken off his glasses and was rubbing his eyes.
“Got something in your eye, Mr. Rogers?”
Julius cackled again. “That boy has something! He has a power!” He clenched one of his withered hands. “And I’m gonna have it, by golly.”
He marched to the door. “I’m going down there. Get ready with the distraction for those feds.”
“Yes, Mr. Grant.”
Julius left the monitoring room. Mr. Rogers sighed and put his glasses back on. He was normally immune to the effects of music, but something about that young man’s singing…
Still, business had to be taken care of. He picked up a phone and dialed a two-digit number.
“Room 33, Peterson speaking.”
“Peterson, this is Mr. Rogers. Start up a conga line.”
“…don’t make spend…the rest of my life…forgetting you.”
The song ended and everybody was left with their regrets and sadness. There was nothing but silence for a long time.
Then somebody clapped. It sounded like someone slapping two rotting piece of meat together.
Heads turned to see Julius Grant. No one had taken notice of his quiet entrance, but now they all shuddered at his presence. It was like an airplane had dropped a stinking corpse onto a classical music recital.
“Damn fine music there, son,” he said, that grin always on his face. “Feel like taking a break now?”
Malcolm watched Julius Grant carefully, then said, “Sure. Why not?” He turned to A.C. “Mind handling it alone for awhile?”
“Malcolm, I can’t make you do nothin’ you don’t want to do,” A.C. said evenly.
“Okay, then.” Malcolm unplugged his guitar. Carrying it with him, he walked past the occupants in the room who watched him with awe and a little fear.
“Let’s talk in my office,” Julius said.
“Mind if we tag along?”
Julius slowly turned his head to Mulder and Scully. “This is a private conversation, sir,” he told them, his smile becoming shorter.
“We don’t want to listen in,” Mulder replied calmly. “We just want to be nearby if something bad happens.”
The smile on the face of Julius Grant widened again. “Why, nothing bad happens in the House of Solomon, son! Besides…I think you two would rather do something else.”
“What does that…” Mulder started, then noticed that he was holding Scully’s hand. They realized that their hands had been touching throughout Malcolm’s song.
They quickly pulled apart, shoving their hands into their coat pockets. “We’re only here on a professional basis,” Scully said in a voice that sounded a lot more defensive than she wanted.
Julius laughed (that shrill, mocking sound) and jerked his thumb at the people in the room. They had picked up their games again, trying to ignore Julius’s presence. “Some of these are professionals, too,” he said. “Not too shocked by it all, are you?”
“We’re FBI agents,” Mulder declared. “We’ve been trained…why are they doing that?”
Mulder pointed at the two women and one man who were licking the yellow walls. “What is that?” he asked, his voice a little high-pitched. “A paint fetish?”
“That ain’t paint, boy. It’s come.” Julius waved his hand around the room. “Every wall in this room is covered with come. Maybe if you’re nice to me, I’ll tell you how we got enough to paint with.”
Mulder closed his eyes.
“This way, Malcolm,” Julius said. “Let’s go talk business.”
Malcolm followed the old, old man out of the room, guitar under his arm. Mulder remained motionless, eyes still closed. Scully tugged on his sleeve.
“Come on, Mul…I mean, let’s go, Mulder.”
He sighed, then he left the room with her. Back on the stage, A.C. and the drummer looked at each other. It was one of the few moments in which they shared a mutual concern.
“Well,” A.C. said. “Let that boy boogie-woogie.”
And the music started up again, hard and funky as ever. And the drummer went back to looking hatefully at A.C.
Spiegelman’s hand pulled out of his jacket. He blinked, looking as if he wasn’t sure where he was. Sally had quickly turned away, rubbing her eyes.
Spiegelman opened his mouth to say something, but stopped. He looked over at Sally. He saw her touching her eyes.
“What’s with you?” he said in an overly gruff tone.
“Not one damn thing,” she flatly replied.
He nodded. “Well, good. That’s…”
Suddenly, he smacked the steering wheel. “The hell with it. Let’s pack it in. Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen here…”
“Meyer?” There was a warning in Sally’s voice. She was pointing at something far away. Spiegelman squinted into the darkness and saw…
“Ah, damn it. Damn it, fuck it and bury it in shit.”
“I’m telling you, son, I wish I could play like you do. You’ve got angels in your voice and demons in your fingers. The last time I heard something that good was when I saw Albert King down in Arkansas…”
Julius was going on and on, his cracked voice friendly and blustering. Malcolm walked by his side, not saying anything. Mulder and Scully followed them at a distance as Julius casually led them through the maze of hallways in the House of Solomon.
Mr. Reed was watching them over the hidden cameras. He saw Julius led Malcolm down to the end of an hallway and turn left into another one, out of sight from the FBI agents. Then he pressed a button.
Mulder and Scully was heading for the corner when they heard the boisterous sound of a salsa record over the speakers. From the right end of the hallway ahead of them, a man appeared. Then another man. Then a woman. And a man, a woman, a man, a man…
They came around the corner, a long line of them, dancing a conventional conga beat. The fact that they were naked was not totally unconventional, either. What was definitely unconventional was that they were all sodomizing the person in front of them.
It was a hard task, to be sure. How does one keep the beat when you have your penis up somebody’s butt and another one up yours? Or, in the case of the woman, how does one keep your strap-on dildo firmly in place in a conga line? Still, they were managing to do it and they all looked to be enjoying themselves except for the man up front. He was House Whore Peterson and his tanned, handsome face was a professional blank. His muscular body dragged the pale, sweaty, overweight man by his dick in Peterson’s desired direction. And that direction was straight towards Mulder and Scully.
Now, what do you do when you see the world’s longest butt- fuck heading your way?
You back up, of course.
Malcolm looked behind him as Julius rambled on, pretending nothing was happening. He wondered if he should stop and let Mulder and Scully catch up.
Nah. It wasn’t necessary.
Besides, it was pretty damn funny.
Mulder and Scully stood against the walls, trying to be as flat as they could be. The conga line went past them. It took awhile before the last person came. Mulder roughly counted fourteen people — five women and nine men.
He looked at Scully and said, “Now, that’s Guinness Book material.”
Then they ran after Malcolm and Julius. It was too late, though. The old man was nowhere to be found and neither was Malcolm.
Johnny McDonald had never felt this good before. As he marched at the front of the crowd, he regarded his past raid on the Shithole with amusement. That time, he had led a mere sprinkling of people. He had been so impressed with himself then.
Today, however, when he had called up people and gone door to door looking for recruits, he had gotten more people than he ever could imagine getting. (Granted that there was also a lot of people who told him to go fuck a duck, but those were obviously ignorant non-Christians.) A lot of people were shocked at the idea of the preacher’s son playing at the House of Solomon. Letting him work at the Shithole was bad enough, but that brothel was vile even by the standards of your average brothel. Before nightfall, Johnny had acquired an army of sixty-two Christian soldiers, old and young, all ready to pray for God’s wrath to drop upon the House of Solomon.
They made one stop, first.
Nadine Burnside was warming a bowl of soup over an open flame when she heard the sound of a dozen cars stopping outside her treehouse. She looked out the window.
Johnny stepped out of a car, his arms defiantly crossed over his chest. His many followers watched from inside their vehicles.
“Reverend Burnside!” he called out.
“I’m here, Johnny,” she sighed.
“We are going to rescue your son from the forces of darkness. Will you join us?”
“Johnny, you may think that you know what’s going on, but…”
“I said, will you join us?”
“No, I won’t. You shouldn’t do this. There’s a good chance that you might get hurt.”
Johnny then delivered his usual “I shall fear no evil” spiel, turned on his heel and left with his Christian soldiers. They drove the several miles to the House of Solomon. They parked in a semi-circle around the brothel, got out and marched forward, crosses and Bibles in hand.
Johnny had never felt so proud, so confident.
Maybe a little too confident. He hoped no one noticed that he had a hard-on.
They had reached the edge of the parking lot. The House of Solomon was a mere fifty feet away. Nothing could stop them.
Nothing except for a Jewish police chief and a bulky female cop.
The two of them seemed to have popped out of nowhere. They stood in front of the crowd as if they could hold the whole thing back by themselves. And they probably could.
Johnny’s group came to an abrupt halt. The marchers crashed into the back of the person up front. Several people fell to the ground, including Johnny.
“What the fuck are you doing?” the chief asked.
Johnny picked himself up, brushing the dirt off him. “We’re here to take Malcolm Burnside, Jr. away from this den of iniquity.”
“Oh, not this shit again,” Sally complained. “What is it with you and Nadine’s son anyway? You’ve got a hard-on for him or something?”
Holding his Bible in front of his pants, Johnny gave Sally the stiff upper lip. “I don’t expect you to understand. And I certainly don’t expect the chief to understand a Christian’s motives.”
“You know,” Spiegelman growled. “that sounds vaguely anti- Semitic. How would you like a chainsaw circumcision, you little peckerwood?”
Johnny opened his mouth, then closed it.
“Or I could do something worse,” Meyer said. “I could stand aside and let you and your Bible-fuckers raid that place. ‘Cause if you do that, then Julius Grant will have your ass on a silver plate.”
Johnny got his voice back. “God is on our side. None of us need fear the sinner Julius Grant. Isn’t that right?”
There was a pause, then a half-hearted cheer.
“It don’t matter if God and the Devil are working together to protect you,” Sally said. “Mess with Julius Grant and he’ll bury you in the darkest, smelliest parts of Mississippi.”
She had a point, there. Johnny looked at his congregation. They all shifted on their feet, scratched the back of their necks, looked in other directions.
Johnny turned to Spiegelman and Sally. “We…we…we don’t plan to invade this wretched building. We wouldn’t dare contaminate ourselves with its foul air. Am I right?”
The crowd called out its agreement, stronger this time.
“We shall call out Malcolm and all the sinners with him. We’ll let them know that God wishes for them to repent and accept the glory of Christ.”
“And how the hell do you plan to do that?” Spiegelman asked.
Johnny turned back to the crowd. He held up one hand and waved out a tempo.
“OnWARD, Christian Soooo-ilderrrrss….” he bellowed.
The crowd joined in. “Marching as to WARRRRR…”
Spiegelman’s hand slapped against his forehead and went slowly down his face. It was going to be a long night.
“Scully, did you hear something?”
“Forget it, Mulder.”
“Sounds like people singing…”
“Mulder, would you forget it and keep up with me, okay? We don’t want to get separated.”
That was a threat to take seriously. The House of Solomon was an impossible place to find your way through. Every hallway branched off into other directions and since every hallway looked alike…
And the people they encountered…
A woman laid on the floor dressed up in a frog costume. She was on her back, shaking her green limbs in the air with a patch opened to reveal her groin. “Fuck me!” she croaked to anybody passing by. “Fuuuuck meee!”
A man running through the hallways with his penis stuck in a lead pipe, screaming “Get it off! GET IT OFF!”
A man with his head pressed against one wall and his toes touching the base of the opposite wall. His body was as rigid as a board and he had a big smile on his face.
That damn conga line again.
“Scully, we need to start opening doors.”
“No, I don’t want to see what’s behind…”
“If we’re going to find Malcolm, we have to.”
Scully sighed. “All right. But you first.”
“Okey-dokey,” he said and opened a door. “See? Just some couple having sex. Hi, guys!”
A man and a woman replied with an aggravated shout as Mulder closed the door.
“And the next door…well, just some guy masturbating. Nothing big there. And here we have…”
The man in the room turned to Mulder as he opened the door. “Hello,” he said and held out two pumpkins. “Excuse me for asking, but which of these look more attractive to you?”
Julius Grant had been to the Final Baptist Church once. Only once. That had been after he had met the 10-year-old Malcolm, Jr. When the usher had seen Julius enter, he almost pissed in his pants. Throughout the whole Sunday service, people kept sneaking glances at the grinning old man alone in the back. Occasionally, Julius would look one of them in the eye and wink. They would turn away, shuddering. From the pulpit, Nadine could see the uncomfortable effect Julius was having on the church. Even the choir’s singing had become shaky. The only one unaffected was her son who played his guitar during hymns and sang with implacable ease. She noticed that Julius had his eyes fixed straight upon Malcolm.
Halfway through the service, she decided to address the situation.
“I see we have a new visitor with us today,” she said calmly. “Would you please stand up, sir?”
“Nope,” Julius said. “I’m comfortable where I am.”
“Well, then. Then I’ll come to you.”
The congregation murmured as the reverend walked down the aisle, her robe swaying over the floor. Malcolm watched her, readying himself to do anything.
She stopped before Julius.
“Hello, Mr. Grant.”
“Mornin’ to you, Reverend.”
“Have you come to hear the good news of the Lord?”
“No, I came to see your tits.”
The audience gasped. It gasped even louder when Nadine turned her back to them and lifted up her robe up above her head.
Julius stopped grinning. It was the only time that anyone had seen him look helpless.
Then Nadine dropped the robe. “There,” she said. “Do you still need to stay?”
Julius stumbled out of the church. Thinking about it now still made Malcolm smile.
“What’s so funny, son?” Julius asked him.
“I was just thinking about the time you came to church.”
Julius looked uncomfortable for a moment, then he laughed. “Yeah, your momma sure turned the tables on me. I gotta admit…I have seen tits and I have seen tits, but I have never seen tits like…”
“You brought me here to talk about my mother’s breasts?”
Julius looked at the young black man sitting before his desk. The two men were in Julius’s office at the House of Solomon. Like everything else Julius owned, it was flamboyant and expensive.
“I want to talk about you, Malcolm,” Julius said. “About the things that you can do.”
Malcolm looked back at Julius, his finger tapping the guitar next to his chair. “How did you know?” he asked.
“When you have lived as long as I have…and if you pay attention to everything around you…you realize that there is some weird shit in the world. Magical shit. Supernatural shit. Shit out of the Twilight Zone. Once you accept that, then you get a sense for its smell.”
He pointed a finger at Malcolm. “I smelt it on you.”
Malcolm sniffed his armpit. “Gee, I take a bath everyday.”
“I wasn’t sure what it was. I knew that there was something you could do, something special. And when I heard that your daddy was shot on his wedding day, I started to guess what it was.”
“What do you mean?” Malcolm said innocently.
Julius leaned forward. “Son, we both know that your momma is not the kind to let anybody in until her wedding day. She was still a virgin when your daddy got killed, I guarantee it.”
“What are you getting at?”
“I have this book. Something that gives me the lowdown on all the supernatural shit of the world. Never mind how I got it, but it told me what a child like you could do. It also told me that at a certain age, your powers would be…”
Malcolm stood up and placed his hands on the desk. His gaze was still distant but also threatening like dark clouds in the sky. “It was you, wasn’t it? You sent the goddamned KKK to the Shithole. It was your experiment to find out if I was the real deal.”
“It worked, didn’t it?” Julius replied with a smile.
“And if you were wrong?”
Julius gave Malcolm an askance look. “Is this where you start threatening me, Malcolm?”
“Everybody in Mississippi is afraid of you, Mister Grant. They have reason to be. But I don’t have a reason.” Malcolm leaned forward. “You, on the other hand, have a very good reason to be afraid of me.”
“Oh, yeah,” Julius said quietly. “I do. I know that there’s nothing in this world that can harm you.”
Then he stood up and there was now a few inches between each man’s face. “But what about outside this world?” Julius asked.
Malcolm said nothing as he stared into the yellow eyes of Julius Grant.
“You were something that should never have been, boy. You have control over life and death. No human in near about two thousand years has had that power. I imagine that you have received warnings about using your powers, haven’t you?”
Malcolm’s eyes looked to the side.
“From what my book tells me, you’ve been permitted to exist because trying to get rid of you would be way too much of a hassle. In fact, it might result in a war between incredible forces that could rip apart the very fabric of reality.”
Julius blinked, then laughed. “Shit! ‘A war between incredible forces that could rip apart the very fabric of reality.’ Ain’t that a fancy way of speaking? Of course, it hits the nail on the head, don’t it?”
“Maybe,” Malcolm whispered.
“So, the powers that be will let you go your merry way — as long as you resist using your powers. But that’s all changed now, hasn’t it?”
Malcolm finally walked away from the desk. He went into a corner of the office, rubbing his hands together.
“You’ve crossed the line, Malcolm. Now your ass is in their cross hairs. If you attempt a sequel to the Shithole…will you be able to accept the punishment?”
Malcolm remained silent for awhile.
Then, with his back still turned, he said, “You haven’t told me what you want.”
Julius said, “The real question is — what do you want?”
Malcolm shoved his hands into his pockets. “You tell me, Mr. Grant. You’re good at figuring out other people’s needs.”
Julius laughed. “That I am.”
He walked over to Malcolm. The younger man shivered when he felt one of those bony hands on his shoulder.
“What you want,” Julius said. “is protection. And I can give that to you.”
“I’ll hammer in the MORNIIIING. I’ll hammer in the EVENIINNGG…”
“I know what I would do with a hammer right now,” Sally snarled. “Can we get out of here?”
Spiegelman was about to say “yes” when he saw a man walk through the singing mob. He was a big guy and it would not have been advisable to get in his way.
He stopped right before the chief. “Are you Chief Spiegelman?” he asked in a blunt voice.
Spiegelman pointed at his badge. “Nah, I’m just dressing up like this for the fun of it.”
“Are…you…Chief…Spiegelman?” The look in the man’s eyes could crack a walnut.
Not a man to mess lightly with, Spiegelman thought. “Yeah, I’m the chief of police. Who are you?”
The man told him.
“I was told you’ll be here. I’m looking for Mulder and Scully. Do you know where they are?”
Spiegelman smiled. “Funny you should ask.”
Threesomes, foursomes, oils and creams, rubber suits, electric fans…
Scully was getting tired of all this. She was tired of getting to know the perversities of everybody in Mississippi.
Women dressed as men, men dressed as women, role-playing games of boss and secretary, plantation owner and slave, cat and mouse…
And that conga line kept popping up. It was as if the thing was chasing after them, forcing them into new directions.
Gerbils, mice, even an otter, all being directed to where the sun don’t shine…
She looked behind her at Mulder as he opened another door. The sound of a whip made him wince before he closed the door. She shook her head as she reached for a doorknob.
In the monitoring room, Mr. Rogers had his finger over a button.
Scully opened the door. She was surprised — gratefully surprised — to find nothing. Just a dark empty…
Mr. Rogers pressed the button.
Mulder heard his partner yell and he turned in time to see the floor in the hallway tilt upward. Scully went spilling through the doorway. He ran hard over there just as the hallway floor snapped back down and the door shut itself.
Keeping his feet off the danger spot, he opened the door and poked his head inside the room.
No one was inside.
“Well, shit,” he said.
Just as Scully had been pushed inside, the floor of the dark room had also tilted and she was sliding down to…
…a very soft, comfortable landing. She found herself lying on a bed.
“Well, all riiiiighht!”
She also found herself in a room with a big sun-burned guy with a cropped haircut and a meaty body enclosed in a dress suit. He looked like he was in college and he most certainly had been drinking from a liquor cabinet in the room. “Son-of-a-gun, you’re a nice one, ain’t you?” he leered.
“Excuse me,” she said and headed for the door. It did not entirely surprise her that it was locked.
“Do you have a key to this door?” she asked.
“Naw,” the college student grinned. “But I can give the word and they’ll open it.”
“Then give the word.”
The college student pulled himself to his feet. “Guess you haven’t heard. In this room, you only get out until the guy who pays for it says you get out.”
“And I will only say it…” He staggered over to her. “…when I’m satisfied.”
“You get what I…”
“I…got what you meant. Now, understand this. Tell them to open this door or face the consequences.”
The college student nodded. “Every pussy is a little tight when they come here. No problem. You go ahead and get rough, short stuff.” He spread his large, football-playing arms and looked down at a woman that was a foot shorter than he was. “Whatever gets your juices going, I say. Then you’re mine, bitch.”
“Protection?” Malcolm turned to Julius. “You think you can protect me from…”
“I’ve done some more reading on the subject,” Julius said. “Turns out that you can protect yourself from the forces lined against you by pledging yourself to a human. It’s sort of like…getting your own lawyer when you’re being sued.”
“Wait a minute? Pledging myself?”
“If anybody wants to deal with you…and I mean, anybody …they’ll have to go through me, first.”
Malcolm smirked. “That wouldn’t take long.”
“You don’t understand. You see, there are rules that even the greatest forces have to abide by. If you are following a human leader…if you are no longer just an independent person…then the other side has to follow a certain decorum. We have to have meetings, discussions, agree to terms before anything can be done.”
“You make it sound like a business deal.”
Julius grinned. “Exactly.”
“Well, it also sounds like nothing more than a delaying tactic. After all the ‘decorum’ has been dealt with, what then?”
“By then…we should be able to work out an advantage.”
Johnny looked at the old man. “What do you mean?”
“I’m still working on it. But once you have rules, you also have loopholes in those rules. I believe that I’ve found one. And once all the bureaucratic shit has been dealt with, I should be able to find a way of getting us through that hole.”
“Still sounds like a big risk.”
“Oh, it is. It is. If it doesn’t work, then we are fucked like a Mexican whore. But…if it does work…” Julius placed both of his hands on Malcolm’s arms. “…then you and I will be sitting pretty.”
“Meaning, you will be sitting pretty. I’ll be under your control.”
“Think of me as your manager. But it’ll be a partnership. You’ll get what you want and I’ll get what I want.”
Malcolm hesitated before speaking again.
“Tell me…Mr. Grant…why should I pledge myself to you? Why not my mom? Or A.C.?”
“Because they don’t have my knowledge. They don’t have my skills. They don’t have my killer instinct. I can rewrite the Laws of Heaven for you, son. If you just give me the chance…”
“I see you’re interested.”
“I am. There’s just one problem…”
Malcolm pushed the old man’s hands off him.
“You are a stinking, lying, evil old mammy-fucker with a turd for a soul and an empty whiskey bottle for a conscience. The devil himself wouldn’t work a deal with you and neither will I.”
Julius slowly nodded. He went back to his desk and sat casually down in his chair. “I thought you might say something like that,” he said, then threw his hands up into the air. “Okay. If you want to handle this alone, that’s up to you.”
“I will.” Malcolm went to the chair and picked up his guitar.
“Of course, that still leaves your ass in the gunsight. And it’s a mighty big gun pointed at you.”
“It’s my problem.”
“Sure enough. And it will get bigger if you ever use your powers again.” Julius lifted an eyebrow. “Think you can do avoid doing that?”
Malcolm stood still for a long time, watching the most evil man in the world and wondering how he ever got to live this long.
“By the way,” Julius said. “using your powers to kill somebody is a definite no-no. That would bring shit down on your head like you were lying under an outhouse. I thought that I would mention that…” The grin again. “…just in case you were thinking about killing somebody.”
Malcolm kept standing there.
Then he left the office.
Julius slapped his hand down on his desk. “Well, time for Step Two.”
Mulder had went down to the next floor, trying to pinpoint where Scully landed. He found himself opening doors again, getting more used to what he found.
Except for the guy who had slit open a dead pig and was humping it. That he could have done without.
It turned out that the place he was looking for had its door already open. In it, he found several broken bottles, a torn bed, and a big college student on the floor. Mulder noticed that the door had several dents on the inside and the college student was nursing a bleeding forehead.
“Ooohh,” the college student moaned.
“Excuse me,” Mulder said. “but did you see…”
Mulder took another look around the room and said, “Never mind. I’ll just follow the trail of kicked groins.”
A.C. saw Malcolm enter the come-painted room. His nephew had an anxious look on his face as he quickly strode around the perverts. He went right up to A.C. and the drummer as they were playing.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said.
A.C. and the drummer saw that he meant NOW. The music abruptly stopped. Malcolm started to help them break down the equipment.
A.C. turned to see a man dressed in a pink costume with ceramic butterfly wings attached to his back. His distressed face had glitter pasted to it and heavy eyeshadow.
“I want to hear more!” he whined.
A.C. looked at the man.
Then he placed a hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Come on down to the Shithole anytime you want to, sir,” he said solemnly. “The blues is for everybody, even for faggot mammy-fuckers.”
Mulder twisted and turned through the House of Solomon. Not only couldn’t he find Scully, but he had gotten himself even more lost. He had gotten so lost that he ended up going to the very top of the dome-shaped building.
There, he found a ladder leading up to a door in the ceiling. Not knowing where else to go, he climbed the ladder and lifted up the door.
The lighting was dim, but he could make out the flash of red hair.
“No,” a female voice whispered to him.
“Sorry,” he said and was about to descend back down when…
“Do you like the unusual?”
The question grabbed him. And not just the questions, but the warm, low voice that spoke it.
“Do you like to face the unknown? Do you crave for the mysterious and strange?”
His eyes were adjusting to the lack of light. He was able to see a woman lying on a silk-covered couch.
“Well…now that you mention, yes. I mean, it’s…it’s my job. Not that I’m…”
“Then come here.”
“No, no, no. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not…”
The woman left the couch and took a few steps forward with the grace of ballerina. “You don’t have to do anything. I merely ask that you look.”
“Look at what?”
The woman said nothing.
Mulder’s curiosity outdid his caution. He climbed up into the attic and walked up to the woman. He saw that she was extremely beautiful, her features in the classical shape of Greek art. She wore a loose green dress.
“I have been given something that nature rarely allows. If you look upon it, then you’ll understand how mysterious and strange our world is.”
Mulder cleared his throat. “What…what were you given?”
The woman hitched up her skirt until its hem was hanging above her waist. She waited for Mulder to make his move.
He stared at a face that gave away nothing. Then he bent down and he looked. It was hard to tell what he was seeing at first in the dark, but then it became clear.
Oh, sweet Jesus.
The people in room forty were just having themselves an orgy, minding their own business, tending to themselves, peeing in each other’s mouths when the door was kicked in. Everyone became motionless with their hands around somebody or in somebody. Their bodies were stretched in agonizing poses as they waited for their intruder to speak.
The intruder was a short, red-haired woman with a trim dark suit and a very angry expression. “All right,” she growled. “Unhook that strap, put down that can of baked beans and listen up. And if anybody tries to proposition me, seduce me or hold out any kind of battery-operated toy in my direction, then I will take that person and ram one of my heels up an orifice of my choosing. And if you take a look at the size of my heels, then you know how painful that will be. Now, I’m looking for a man named Agent Mulder and I need to know where he is now.”
“So do I,” a voice said.
Scully turned and saw the last person in the world she wanted to see.
Julius Grant left the House of Solomon through the back exits (which, as Scully suspected, was two large bubble- shaped doors.) He walked until he was far, far away from the building. He could faintly hear the sound of Johnny McDonald’s Christian brigade. He nodded in satisfaction.
When there was enough distance, he stopped and turned. He pulled out a black box that was as small as a pack of cards. The box had a button in the center and an antenna that he pulled out to full length.
He looked at the House of Solomon, his thumb hovering uncertainly over the button.
“Seems like a waste of a perfectly good whorehouse,” he mused.
“Hurry the fuck up, will you, A.C.?”
“Okay, okay, don’t get your nuts all tied up, Malcolm,” A.C. said as they carted their equipment down the hallway, heading for the front door. “What are you so worked up about?”
“I don’t know,” Malcolm said. “I don’t know.”
Then he suddenly stopped.
“What is it now?” A.C. snapped.
“Where’s Mulder and Scully?”
He couldn’t believe…
He must be seeing something, it was too dark in…
No, they were real…
One, two, three…
“They all can pleasure you,” the woman whispered. “They all can bring you to the heights of ecstasy and deliver you to uncharted lands of bliss. But you must choose wisely.”
“You must choose wisely.”
Mulder blinked, then looked up. “What do you mean?”
“One of these is safe to enter.”
“And…the other two?”
“One will leave you unable to perform for the rest of your life. Your pleasure here will be your last. The same for the third, only the danger is not impotence. It’s death.”
Mulder looked back down. “You’re kidding,” he said.
“Well, in that case…”
“Which do you choose?”
“I’m not going to…
“You don’t want my pleasure and joy?”
“I don’t want to die or have a defective cock for the rest of my life, no.”
The woman stepped forward. A heady smell took Mulder by the nostrils and almost dragged him forward. He managed to scurry back, pulling himself to the open door. The woman followed after him, her three companions seemingly ahead of her like a pack of dogs.
“True pleasure can only be known at the edge of the abyss,” the woman said. “Dance on the edge with me.”
Mulder’s thoughts were two-fold. (My God, this woman is a freak in more ways than one and…gee, what would it really be like to…?) His inner debate manifested itself in a penis that rose and fell like a bouncing tennis ball.
“Come to me, my man of secrets. Come to me and you shall know what is hidden in…”
Mulder’s last comment was the result of him suddenly feeling the absence of a floor under him. He fell through the attic door. His hands reached out for anything and caught the ladder. He slid backwards, the wood hot and stinging under his hands. He kept his head up and took the painful landing on his shoulders. There he laid, upside down with his body propped up against the ladder.
“Very well,” the woman whispered above him. “Some other time, brave wanderer.”
The attic door closed.
Mulder almost sighed with relief when he realized that he wasn’t alone. He turned his head and saw Dana Scully with a man. A big, bald-headed man with glasses and a dark business suit.
Oh, sweet Jesus, again.
“Agent Mulder,” Assistant Director Walter Skinner said. “what the hell are you doing?”
Maybe he could have said something. Maybe a rushed explanation or a quip about doing yoga exercises. Or maybe he could have said, “And just what are YOU doing here, sir?” Or maybe he could have just sat upside-down and let Scully try to explain everything.
He never got a chance to try any of those options because then the House of Solomon blew up.
“Ah, what the hell,” Julius said and pressed the button.
“Malcolm, could you settle down and explain what’s going on?” A.C. said.
“I told you, goddammit,” Malcolm shot back. “I don’t know. I just got the feeling that we should find Mulder and Scully and…”
First, they heard the sound, a roar under their feet that they had a second to listen to before everything else happened.
Then the floor burst open and fire charged upwards like the devil’s spear. The walls snapped apart. The ceiling fell.
Malcolm had to make a decision within one heartbeat, one tiny drop of time in which to think about all the people in the House of Solomon. They were degenerates and freaks to be sure, but did they deserve this? And what about Mulder and Scully? Or his uncle? Or the drummer? Should those lives be ended simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Could he stand by and watch this happen?
A voice shouted warnings in his ear, told him not to do anything, cautioned that he was tampering with forces that man should never control.
And Malcolm Burnside, Jr. said, “Fuck it.”
As if a great mouth below them was blowing and inhaling, the occupants of the House of Solomon first went up, then were sucked down. They were pushed skywards on a great wave of heat before they began to fall. As they tumbled into a pool of fire and stone, the certainty of their deaths was as blunt and sudden as a thunderclap. One moment, you’re fucking your brains out. The next, you’re dead. Ain’t that a pisser?
Mulder, Scully and Skinner found themselves being unrealistic as the floor opened up and the walls slammed down upon them. They had faced death so many times before that they had become accustomed to looking for a way of avoiding that cloaked bastard and his scythe. However, they realized that this was the real deal. They were caught between fire and an collapsing building. They would be cooked, then crushed.
This time, they were actually going to die.
But only for a moment.
Johnny and his crew were doing a number from “Godspell.” Sally and Spiegelman were seriously considering using their truncheons when it happened.
Cars hopped off the ground and cracked themselves as they landed. There was not one person who was able to stay on his feet. Every face felt the heat. They all watched in horror as the House of Solomon tore itself apart into a pile of wood and rock and glass. A red light covered the whole valley. No other sound could enter their ears except the explosion’s thunder.
Debris launched itself in all directions, smashing into cars and imbedding itself into the ground. Spiegelman rolled himself up into a ball, knowing there was no safe place to avoid the deadly rain. Luckily, he felt nothing. (What he didn’t know was that he had been struck several times as were a lot of other people.)
When the last bits of debris hit the ground and when the echo of the explosion faded away, Spiegelman looked up. He tenderly stood himself up and stared at the wreckage. So did Sally, Johnny and everybody else, their eyes watering from the drifting smoke. The fire had dissipated into a few small flames.
Then they saw movement–an arm stretching out from under a pile of stone. Spiegelman went into official mode and yelled out, “Sally, get a rescue team! The rest of you…”
He was rushing towards the wreckage when he abruptly stopped. He saw the arm pull out its owner from the rubble. A man dressed in a diaper stood up and looked out at the world with a dazed expression. He was dirty and his diaper was burnt, but he looked just fine.
Then others appeared, pushing aside the mess around them and rising from the dust. Their clothes were filthy and singed (if there were wearing clothes), but otherwise they were okay. Their soot-covered features were completely bewildered.
Every person who had been in that explosion walked away from it. Spiegelman saw Malcolm among them, looking a lot less dazed than everybody else. He rushed towards him.
“I’m fine, Chief.”
“That’s my line,” a female voice said. Spiegelman saw Scully step through the wreckage. Her partner and her boss were with her. Like Spiegelman, Skinner was looking around him in disbelief. Scully appeared tense, but seemed less shocked. As for Mulder, he was a bizarre picture of cool, unhurriedly brushing off his coat.
“What in the name of fucking God happened?” Spiegelman cried out.
“I think Malcolm knows,” Mulder said. “Isn’t that right?”
Before Malcolm could say anything, Johnny McDonald shouted out–
“ANOTHER MIRACLE! I TOLD YOU THAT I SAW ONE BEFORE! NOW YOU HAVE SEEN ONE YOURSELF! GOD SHOWED YOU HIS POWER TONIGHT! ONLY GOD COULD HAVE DONE…”
Johnny stopped himself. His eyes widened. “Only I could have done it,” he whispered. Then he held up his arms and shouted in an even louder voice. “THE POWER OF THE LORD FLOWS THROUGH ME! I AM HIS CHOSEN ONE! HE HAS SET ME UP SO THAT I MIGHT BECOME THE TRUE LEADER OF…”
Malcolm walked over to Johnny and knocked him unconscious.
>From his faraway position, Julius grinned and said, “Now that’s just peachy.”
Further away, a man in a dark suit and a bowler hat was jumping up and down, stomping his feet in frustration.
“He did it again!” he yelled. “He…did…it…again!”
Fred Udell wanted two things out of life — the supremacy of the white race and a properly working colon.
When Julius Grant had convinced him that Malcolm Burnside, Jr. was the holder of a great power and that they could manipulate that power, he had forseen at least one of his dreams coming true.
So far, he had only received humiliation and a broken nose. And now it looked like he was going to lose the one thing that he could call his own — the Final, Mississippi chapter of the KKK. All because of Julius Grant and this slick asshole who had just come to town.
Final’s small chapter of the KKK first met Lyndon Owens at Udell’s house. And in that very house and before Udell’s very eyes, Owens was snatching control over his crew.
Lyndon Owens looked like the kind of guy who was used to taking control and he did it with a big shit-eating smile on his face. He looked like a cross between a prom king and an insurance salesman — a tall, handsome wad of self- confidence in a three-piece suit.
He was also from…Ohio.
“I’m very pleased to meet you all ,” he said to Udell, Maggie, Nathaniel and Ed. “It’s wonderful to meet members of the Klan, particularly in the South. The noblest traditions of the Klan extend to the area below the Mason- Dixon line.”
Motherfucking Yankee, Udell thought.
“Oh, yeah, a lot of noble traditions,” Maggie sneered which was the prelude to a long speech about the history of sexism. For once, Udell was glad to hear it and was looking forward to hearing it directed at someone else. Before she could start up, Owens said–
“I’m also very pleased to see a woman amongst you. The Klan has not had the best track record in acknowledging the efforts of white women. I hope to change that one day.” Owens gave her a brilliant smile and Maggie…Maggie actually blushed. “Th-thank you,” she stammered.
Udell rolled his eyes. For chrissake, Maggie, I can almost hear your panties getting wet.
“And you must be Nathan,” Owens continued. “Excuse me, Nathaniel. I hear that you are a highly intelligent young man.”
“I’m only one foot soldier in the army of science,” Nathaniel replied solemnly.
Marvelous? Did this faggot actually say ‘marvelous?’
“And you have to be Ed. The muscle of the group.”
Ed grunted. It was an amibiguous noise, but since Ed wasn’t ripping off Owens’ head, then it could be assumed that he didn’t mind the man from Ohio.
“And you…must be Fred Udell.”
Owens’ smile faltered a little. “Julius Grant told me a lot about you.”
Udell only nodded, his eyes seething on both sides of his bandaged, cotton-stuffed nose.
“So,” Owens said, clapping his hands together in a ‘let’s- get-down-to-business’ gesture. “I hear the niggers are stirring up trouble again.”
“Wut hab you heab?”
“Only that there’s a lot of nonsense about the Klan shooting up a nigger bar, but it didn’t even happen. Correct?”
Now, it was obvious that Owens hadn’t been told about Malcolm, Jr. And nobody in that room decided to inform him. Each had their separate reasons.
Nathaniel didn’t mention it because he wouldn’t make any assertion without scientific proof. Maggie was silent about it because she didn’t want Owens to think that she was a nut.
Udell kept it under his hat because he just enjoyed knowing something Owens didn’t know.
And Ed…he just didn’t give a flying shit. He was just waiting for the moment when he could start breaking bones.
So Udell said, “Yeah, batz abowt it.”
Owens clucked his tongue. “Typical. Sooner or later, they’ll use this as an excuse to crack down on good white Americans. Well, don’t worry about it. I’m mobilizing various chapters to come down here and…”
“Hod on a futting mimut…”
“Batz Mizter Udell to you, buddy. I dob care if you are Gwand High Dwagon of the whole futting worb. I’m in charz here. Gob me?”
“You’re perfectly clear,” Owens calmly replied. “So what do you wish to be done?”
Udell opened his mouth, then closed it. He opened it again, then closed it again.
When he opened it for the third time, he managed to say, “Yeah, shure. Bwing dem here.”
“Very well. If that’s what you want, Mister Udell. I’ll get on the horn and…”
The pain felt like a hammer had struck his spleen. Udell rushed to the bathroom, taking note of the amused expression on the face of Lyndon Owens. All the time he was on the toilet, Udell imagined that face below his butt.
“Well, hello again!” Julius Grant called out. “And I see you brought a friend with you.”
“I’m Assistant Director Walter Skinner,” the bald-headed man said, trying his best not to look at the elephant. Julius Grant was in the backyard of the Conspicious Consumer. Of course, his backyard was larger than many shopping malls. Grant was tossing peanuts into an enormous pit where Stonewall was being kept. The pit came equipped with soft grass for eating and a pond for drinking. It also had a extendable ramp that Stonewall could use to get out of the pit. Currently, the ramp was pulled out of his reach much to the relief of the three FBI agents.
“Assistant Director? That’s anything like being the manager of a Wal-Mart?”
Skinner looked briefly at Julius’s skeleton grin and said, “I’m the one that Agents Mulder and Scully report to. Right now, we would all like a talk with you.”
“Well, for starters, your brothel. The one that exploded last night.”
“My brothel? I don’t own no brothel.”
“Sir,” Scully said. “not only do you own it, but Agent Mulder and I saw you…”
“I don’t know where you thought you saw me, little lady, but I wasn’t in no whorehouse. I was with some very distinguished gentlemen and ladies who are well-placed in both government and business. All of them will tell you that we were having a quiet soiree in which we discussed the great issues of today over chips and little cocktail weiners.”
And what do you want to bet those same distinguished individuals were at the House of Solomon last night? Okay. Fine…
“Still,” Mulder said, “it might interest you to know that someone blew up a very interesting brothel last night.”
“We think that it might be the owner. The explosives were too well-placed. It had to be someone who knew the building.”
“Now, why would any fool blow up his own whorehouse? Sounds like it was really done by some crazed religious fanatic. Were any of them around last night?”
The FBI agents said nothing.
“‘Cause if they were, then I would start looking into them. If you were to investigate their leader, I’m sure you’ll find things like…oh, I don’t know…wire and mortar in his bedroom or something.”
“We’ll consider that,” Scully said in a dry tone. “Of course, we’ll be keeping a close eye on anybody who appears suspicous.”
“Well, you do that, ma’am. Just make sure that you don’t get into too much trouble.”
Julius felt someone step close to him. He turned and saw Skinner’s face close to his. Skinner wasn’t smiling. His expression was as far from a smile as it could be.
“I was in that building last night,” Skinner said. “That was enough trouble for me. I don’t know how is it I’m alive, but I do know that if I ever…ever find the man who planted that bomb, I will beat thirty-six different flavors of shit out of him. He won’t be safe even if he crawls back into the same putrid womb that spawned his miserable ass. I will find this murderous, soulless, stinking elephant- fucker and make him pay with his blood. Understand me?”
Julius slowly nodded. Then Skinner said, “Come on, agents.” He walked away. Mulder smiled and shrugged at Julius, then left with his partner.
“Hmm,” Julius said.
Stonewall let out a horn-like bellow.
Mulder drove the rental car with Skinner in the front passenger seat and Scully riding in the back. They had been riding in silence for a long time.
Finally, Skinner said, “All right. How is it that we’re alive? And why do I know Mulder is going to give me some wild-ass explanation?”
“Well, if you don’t want to hear it…” Mulder said.
So Mulder talked. After he was done, there was another lengthy and heavy period of silence.
Then Skinner turned to Scully and said, “You think this is true? About Malcolm?”
“Sir, it’s hard to quantify such an improbable theory without data that is…”
Scully closed her eyes and pinched her nose. Then she opened her eyes and said, “Fuck it. Yes, sir, I think it’s true.”
Skinner let out a sigh as long as the Grand Canyon. “You two…the shit that you find…” He threw his hands up in the air and said, “Okay, it’s true. And Julius knows it’s true. Why is he trying to kill everybody around Malcolm?”
“He’s forcing him to use his powers,” Mulder said. “Putting him into situations where he feels compelled to restore life.”
“Which he did for us last night.”
“For us and a lot of other people.”
“I still don’t get it. What’s the point?”
“Maybe Malcolm knows. I think he owes us a few answers.”
“Goddammit, Agent Mulder, if you’re right, then we’re the ones who owe him.”
This time, Scully broke it.
“There’s another question that needs to be answered.”
“What?” Skinner said.
“Why did you come here in the first place, sir?”
Skinner looked at Scully, then at Mulder. Then he reached into his jacket and pulled out a tape.
“I came to work last morning and found this message on my machine.”
He put the tape in the car’s player. A slurry voice came out of the speakers.
“Skinnnnerr! Skinner, man, Walter…you oughtta come down here, man, they’ve got something…oh, wow…they’ve got a drink that will put hair back on your head, man…try it out…I love you, big guy, I want you to loosen up a little, come on down…”
Skinner ejected the tape from the player. If Mulder could have, he would have popped himself out of the car as easily, then find the deepest, darkest hole to hide in.
“I’m going to keep this tape,” Skinner said. “Just as I’m going to keep…this one.”
He pulled out another tape. “Mr. Burnside gave it to me. He said that it might amuse me. It did.”
He inserted the tape.
“Is this thing on?” a female voice muttered. “Is this fucking thing on?”
The woman was assured that it was.
“Allll rrrrigght. Give me a beat.”
A rhythm was played on a guitar. There was muffled giggles in the background as the woman began to sing completely without tone.
“Your love is like trying to light a fire with a wet match…you can’t even get a spark like that…”
Scully held her face in her hands.
“I’m going to hold onto these tightly,” Skinner told them. “And whenever you get out of line, I’m going to play them to as many people as possible. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Mulder and Scully said.
Nadine Burnside was reading her Bible when a voice called out to her. She looked out her treehouse window, then rolled down her ladder. Mulder, Scully and Skinner came climbing up. They found her and her son in the treehouse. Malcolm was sitting in the corner, a brooding expression on his face.
“Malcolm?” Mulder said.
He made no response.
“Malcolm, there’s no point in hiding anything. We know what you are. We know what you can do. What he have to know now is what Julius Grant wants with you.”
Malcolm turned his face away.
“We might be able to help you.”
Malcolm sighed. “Think so?”
“We won’t know until you tell us everything.”
“Okay. Okay, I will.”
Malcolm replayed his conversation with Julius Grant. After he was done, he said, “So, what do you think?”
“Does Julius really think he can pull this off?” Mulder said, stunned.
“He wants to try. And he doesn’t back down from an opportunity for power.”
“But who is the ‘other side?’” Scully said. “Who doesn’t want you to use…”
She stopped herself, then she whispered, “God?”
“No,” Nadine said. “Not God. Or the Devil. Something else.”
Mulder cleared his throat and said in a trembling voice, “It’s Death. Death itself views you as a threat.”
Malcolm smiled a little. “If I go around raising people from the dead…well, that kind of screws up his job.”
Skinner held up a hand and said, “Let me be clear about this. You have the power to raise the dead.”
“That’s right,” Malcolm said.
“But Death doesn’t want you to do that.”
“So, why doesn’t he…it…why doesn’t Death just wipe you out?”
“Because,” Malcolm said. “I might wipe him out instead.”
The three FBI agents all found themselves inching back. “Y- y-you could do that?” Mulder said.
Malcolm shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not. But I’ve got no need to do it. So Death and I just leave each other alone.”
“You mean…up until now.”
Malcolm closed his eyes and lowered his head. “All these people…all of them were dead. I just couldn’t…I just couldn’t…”
Nadine touched her son on the back of his neck. “If my son uses his power one more time…then Death will come for him,” she said, then looked at the agents. “You can be sure that Julius Grant is plotting another situation that will force my son’s hand.”
“I’m not giving in to that asshole,” Malcolm muttered. “No matter what happens, I’m not going to join up with him.”
“We need your help,” Nadine said. “You have to stop Grant from whatever he’s planning.”
“We’ll do that,” Skinner affirmed in a blunt tone. “As the town preacher, maybe you can use your influence to…”
“No,” Nadine said, smiling sadly. “I’m no longer the town preacher. It appears that Johnny McDonald has supplanted me.”
“That little turd?” Scully said, amazed.
“It was going to happen, sooner or later. If not Johnny, then someone else. It doesn’t matter. Stop Julius Grant. If he succeeds, then a lot of people will die.”
“At the very least,” Mulder said.
Nadine looked at Malcolm and gently rubbed his neck. He kept his head down.
As Lyndon Owens called up various chapters of the Klan, Nathaniel made his own phone call.
“Mr. Grant, it’s me.”
“Hey, there, son! Sounds like you’re using the cellular phone I got you!”
“Yes, I am, sir. Thank you very much for it.”
“Where are you now?”
“I’m in the backyard of Fred Udell’s house. The whole Final chapter of the Klan is here. So is Lyndon Owens.”
“Oh, yeah. Slick as shit, ain’t he?”
“Well, I made a sizable money contribution to him once so he should do what I expect him to do.”
“You didn’t tell him about Malcolm Burnside.”
“No. No, I didn’t. Think I should?”
“I would advise against it.”
“That’s what I thought. Son, our minds just run together like two horny rabbits.”
“I would advise against it because we have no real scientific proof for this claim. I believe it’s real, but I would like some solid evidence.”
For a few moments, Nathaniel only heard the slight wheeze of Julius’s breathing.
“I’m here.” There was another pause. “Nathaniel…I think I know how you can get some proof.”
“You see, I had this little plan that would get things really rolling. And I think that I can fit you in very nicely into it.”
“I’m listening, sir.”
Julius explained it all to him.
“So, what do you think, Nathaniel? Sounds good?”
Nathaniel slowly nodded and a little smile pulled at his lips. “Yes, sir. It sounds quite good.”
They came to Final.
They were from the South, mostly — states like Alabama and Arkansas and Tennessee. A few flocked in from the Midwest and from Owens’s own home state of Ohio. Some of them worked on car assembly lines and road construction crews. Some of them were mailmen and file clerks. Others owned their own business. They ranged in age from 19 to 60.
They all had guns.
The black people of Final knew that they were coming. They had relatives and friends in other places who kept them informed of the Klan’s movements. Mulder, Scully and Skinner knew about it from sources that watched the white- hooded men for signs of anything big.
All told, there was at least hundred of them coming.
Everybody knew that it would only take one little incident to make it blow.
Two days passed.
And then it happened.
Skinner had spent the past two days trying to get the National Guard down to Final. He had explained that the potential for a slaughter was enormous. That the Klan were on the march. That Final might make Rosewood look like an episode of “Teletubbies.”
In reply, he was told that the request was meeting with much resistance in the Mississippi government. As one official put it, “we object strongly to federal intervention in the concerns of our small communities. The good people of Mississippi are a proud, independent people who don’t need a truckload of bureaucrats poking their noses into their concerns.”
In other words, the web of Julius Grant reached wide. That official had probably visited the House of Solomon once or twice himself.
That meant that the black people of Final were alone.
That meant that there was nothing between them and a heavily armed lynch mob.
Except for two FBI agents and their assistant director.
Well, ain’t that a pip?
Still, Skinner kept trying. Then he got a call from Agent Mulder.
Skinner closed his eyes for a moment, then said, “Who was involved?”
“Who else? A.C. Burnside.”
Actually, Mulder was wrong. It wasn’t A.C. who was involved in the trigger incident. It was his sister.
Zola Burnside, walking down the street with a bag of groceries. Two shithead crackers in a pickup truck on the same street, both of them from Alabama and here for the KKK gathering.
How it started:
The truck pulls up alongside Zola, crawling at low speed to match her pace. The driver rolls down the window and calls out, “My dick is bigger than any nigger’s! You can suck it anytime you want to!” His passenger giggles at his witticism.
With alarming speed, she pulls out a can of peas from her bag and throws it. Before the driver can duck, he feels the can crack against his head. Then he feels warm blood sliding down his cheek and the sensation that his brain is spinning inside his skull. His foot slams on the brake so he could hold his head and groan.
The passenger’s reaction:
As the truck stops, the other Klan members jumps out so he can go beat a few lessons into that nigger woman. Instead of running away, Zola jumps towards the truck, tossing aside her bag of groceries. She reaches inside the cab and past the head of the moaning driver. By the time the truck’s passenger is within reaching distance of her, she has pulled out their shotgun from their gun rack.
And pointed it at the other’s man head.
“All right,” she says. “Now I want to see you two suck the other’s dick.”
Both men are shocked by the realization that she means it. She is determined to make them give each other a blow job in broad daylight on this street. Luckily, for them, a couple of the locals who witness all this run up to her and encourage her to take off. They do this not out of pity for the two men, but because they’re worried that the rest of the Klan might show up. She leaves, but not before shooting out a couple of tires on the truck.
Anyway, that’s how it went. Mulder, Scully and Skinner heard the story after they arrived at the house of A.C. Burnside. Ben Hedge was there as well.
“What the fuck were you thinking?” he yelled at her. “I expect this kind of bullshit out of A.C., but not from you!”
“What the fuck does that mean?” A.C. growled.
“It fucking means what it fucking means!” Ben shot back. “That’s what it fucking means! This whole fucking family is not satisfied until it completely fucks up the fucking situation!”
“Well, fuck you!”
“No, fuck you!”
“I’ve counted ten ‘fucks’ and one ‘bullshit,’” Mulder observed. “That’s got to be a R-rating at least.”
“Fuck you, FBI!” A.C. and Ben both said.
“Those assholes had it coming,” Zola said quietly.
“Maybe,” Ben said. “But thanks to you, the Klan now has their fucking excuse. They’re going to be riding on us tonight. Did you think of that?”
Zola slowly looked down to the floor.
“If it hadn’t been her, it would have been somebody else,” Scully said.
“But it wasn’t somebody else, was it?” Ben said. He threw his hands up in the air. “That’s it. I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of this whole goddamned town.”
“Now, wait a shit-lickin’ minute,” A.C. said. “What are you so worried about? Malcolm is going to protect us, just like he did before.”
Carefully, Mulder said, “I don’t think you can depend on Malcolm now.”
A.C. stared at Mulder.
“It’s hard to explain,” Mulder said. “but if he uses his powers again, then things might get worse.”
“Well, fuck that in the nose,” A.C. said in a low voice.
Ben smiled bitterly. “I knew it. So much for all that mystic shit.” He looked at Sally. “You’re going to stay here?”
She looked at Ben and said, “Figure I’m needed right now. So are you.”
Ben shook his head, then left the house. They heard a car start up and then drive away.
After a moment’s pause, Scully said to Skinner, “Any word from D.C., sir?”
“No. Those scumfucks are still giving me the runaround.”
“So, all us black folk are alone with this, aren’t we?” Zola said.
“Yes, ma’am. Looks like it.”
Zola stood up straight. “That’s pretty much the way it’s always been, hasn’t it?”
Skinner turned to Mulder and Scully. He asked a silent question and got a silent response. He turned back to the Burnsides.
“You’re not completely alone,” he told them.
A smile was seen on the face of A.C. Not a big one, but it was there. “Well, ain’t you three a trio of noble mammy- fuckers? You do know that this is going to be down and dirty.”
“We do,” Mulder said. “We should also keep in mind what this is really all about.”
Mulder explained everything. About Malcolm, about Grant’s plans for him, about the consequences of any attempts by Malcolm to use his powers.
When he was done, Zola covered her face, looking ready to cry. “Mammy…fucker,” A.C. whispered. “That boy is under a heavier load than I thought.”
“That’s why we have make sure one specific person doesn’t get hurt in this whole mess.”
Down below her treehouse, Nadine Burnside was washing her clothes. She could hear Malcolm playing his guitar. What she couldn’t hear was the man talking to him.
“I can understand how you feel.”
Malcolm made no reply.
“I know that you feel constrained. You have this power to make things right, but you can’t use it. It’s hard to understand the larger picture. I…”
“If you tell me that you can feel my pain, I will knock you out just like my daddy did.”
The man in the bowler hat instinctively touched his nose. He remembered too well the blow that Malcolm Burnside, Sr. had given him, not to mention the shock and humiliation. Before he had been assigned to Final, he had worked in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge had worked him like a dog. He could barely keep with all the souls that he had to gather and direct to their proper spiritual destination. In contrast, Final looked like it would be a cakewalk.
He still didn’t know how Malcolm, Sr. had did it. There had been mortals who had resisted before, but he had the power of an inevitability on his side.
Perhaps, it was because Malcolm, Sr. didn’t want life. He just wanted to spend a hour with the woman he loved.
In any case, Final was no longer a leisurely assignment, but the location of a situation so dangerous that it could rock the foundation of the afterlife. And it was his responsibility.
But maybe not for long.
“No one really knows how powerful you are,” he told Malcolm.
Malcolm stopped playing.
“Maybe you could defeat Death itself in combat. But what then?”
A very cold smile.
“Well, it might mean that I would be the new king of the hill, wouldn’t it?”
“It could,” the man said carefully. “Of course, another thing that could happen is that you two cancel each other out. Where does that leave the universe then? Could reality survive…”
“Look…I will do whatever I think needs doing. Your boss can do whatever he thinks needs doing.”
The man sighed. “Oh, he will, Malcolm. He will.”
The man vanished, leaving Malcolm sitting there quietly for awhile.
Then he heard his mother. “Malcolm, are you all right up there?”
He didn’t speak. He just started up the music again.
It rained hard that night. When it hit the ground, it sounded like God’s frying pan. Flashlights and headlights could only cut the slightest range of vision through it. The best illumination came from the lightning that gave brief white moments of clarity, followed by thunder that either snapped loudly or echoed over the skies in a long continuous dirge.
In that rain, men (and one woman) in white robes gathered together. They slowly headed in their cars and pickup trucks to the train tracks. Guns were held in every hand, sticking out like thorns.
They were expected.
Meyer Spiegelman once asked his mother why did the family live in Final, Mississippi.
“Because we’re not smart like those northern Jews,” she wearily replied.
The Spiegelmans had looked like your standard white trash. Mr. Spiegelman drove a hour everyday to work at a loud, smelly slaughterhouse and then drove back home to drink beer. Mrs. Spiegelman cooked, cleaned and mended with a constant look of depression which only became hopeful when the tv announcer began to call out tonight’s lotto numbers. Meyer had achieved a bit of success by becoming captain of a moderately good football team, but his grades had been nothing special. After high school, he was destined to become a worker at the same slaughterhouse his dad worked at. All these details could have blended them into the background of Final.
But they were still Jewish.
How they came to be living in Final was the result of a long and complicated family history that Meyer had forgotten. All he knew was that grade school had been hell. It had started out as mere incomprehension. (“Huh? You don’t get Christmas presents?”) Then it had escalated from bad jokes to insults to violent hostility. The school officials hadn’t been worth a mule turd in the matter. In fact, the principal had told Meyer, “You people tend to be too sensitive about a few jokes.” (Years later, the same principal reported the theft of his television set to the police. “Ah, don’t worry about it,” Chief Spiegelman told him with a smile. “You people are too sensitive about getting robbed.”) Without Sally’s help, Meyer would have ended up a basket case before middle school, if not seriously injured.
Those young experiences taught Spiegelman that he had to be harder than the town of Final. He was determined to be the Number One Man Not To Be Fucked With. He got to be so tough that making him the high school football captain seemed only right. Then, he dropped every Christian jaw when he became the boyfriend of the most beautiful teenage girl in Final — the town preacher’s own daughter.
Yep, the preacher’s daughter.
The one who wouldn’t have sex with him, no matter how much he sweet-talked or begged. “I’m saving myself for marriage,” she calmly told him.
It’s not like that he needed the sex. He had already slept with several local girls who wanted to get the exotic taste of his circumcised dick. It was just that…
Ah, hell, he had fallen in love with her.
I mean, what was surprising about that? She was a fucking angel. He didn’t even really need sex with her. He would have been content if she would always be at his side for everybody could see.
Then she dumped him. She did it in a way that it almost didn’t feel like a dump, but that’s what it was.
“Your life demands a strength that I can’t give you,” she explained. “You need a woman who can hold her own.”
He wanted to say that she was strong as well, strong of heart and strong of character. Instead, he said in a spiteful voice, “Oh, can you point me out in her direction?”
She looked at him and said, “She might be closer than you think, Meyer.”
He had no idea what she was talking about. And while he had accepted their “just-friends” status, he would still look at Nadine and wish for more. Not that he begrudged her getting married to Malcolm, Sr. Malcolm was the best man in all of Final. “If you’re ever in trouble, let me know,” Malcolm once told Spiegelman. “I’ll help you out.” There was no doubt that he meant it. So, why shouldn’t the two best souls in this miserable little town get married? (Still, when he had seen them walk out of the church into a shower of rice…)
Spiegelman would never forget standing alone outside the church after Bob had done his work. They had taken everybody away — the wounded Nadine, the dead Malcolm and Bob Hoag who had been beaten so badly that he would be dead himself before the day was out. Sally wanted to stay with him, but there was nothing else Spiegelman wanted besides solitude.
He looked down at the rice and blood on the steps. At the age of twenty, he resolved never to have something like this happen in Final again. He resolved that Nadine would never be harmed again.
When he told his father of his plans, Mr. Spiegelman had told him, “Boy, this town ain’t ever gonna accept a Jewish police chief.” Meyer ignored the advice and quit the slaughterhouse. He literally forced his way onto the police force and used the same tenacity to get the job of chief. Within ten years, he was in charge. People had come to accept his rise. With a tough guy like Meyer Spiegelman, what else would you expect him to become?
Spiegelman was now officially the toughest man in Final. His best friend was now his best officer. And Nadine Burnside was always within his sight.
Now, look at the situation. You have a hundred armed Klan fuckheads heading straight into your town. You’ve been told that the woman you love is being targeted by the most evil man in the world. On top of all that, you just witnessed what could only be described as a miracle which would be nice if this particular miracle didn’t seem to make the situation even more of a mess.
Great job, Chief.
In his office, Spiegelman and Sally Ash were loading up their guns. To nobody’s surprise, Spiegelman’s other two patrolmen had vanished. For all Spiegelman knew, they had joined up the Klan. Of course, if that meant getting a chance to shoot their goddamned heads off, that was all right with him.
“Ready?” Spiegelman asked.
Sally took a breath and nodded.
“This is going to be rough, Sally. As rough as it gets.”
She touched him on the arm, an intimate gesture that surprised Spiegelman.
“Just as long as you’re there beside me,” she said.
“Um…well…I don’t actually need you at the front lines.”
She blinked. “Where, then? You’re going to need all the…”
“Someone has to guard Nadine.”
She yanked back her hand. “What?”
“I’ve been told that Julius Grant is going after Nadine. I don’t know why. Hell, I’m still trying to figure what happened at the House of Solomon. But I still…”
Spiegelman’s face turned into a blank, cold contrast to Sally’s hot eyes.
“The black people of Final are the targets, not Nadine Burnside,” she said. “We are not going to waste time and ammo trying to protect one single person.”
Spiegelman stayed quiet for many heartbeats.
Finally, he said in a voice so quiet that the loud rain outside should have muffled it. Sally heard him clearly, though.
“You guard Nadine Burnside. You do it because I’m the fucking chief and you’re under my fucking command and I gave you a fucking order. And that’s the totality of your existence.”
Spiegelman went straight out of the office and straight out of the department building.
And there was Sally just standing there alone. She remained still, rubbing her thumb on the handle of her gun.
Then she took a step towards the door.
She stopped. She looked at Spiegelman’s desk.
The drawers were all locked, including the one that Spiegelman would repeatedly glance at when he was taking with Sally. She never let on, but she knew that Spiegelman kept something very secret in there and it wasn’t porno mags.
If there was ever a time to find out what was inside…
There was no trick to getting it opened. She knew how to get past a lock with the best of them. She opened the drawer and looked inside.
Very slowly, she took out an item. She stared at it as if it was a deep dark hole.
When she left, she took it with her. She walked outside, not noticing the rain.
They met at the center of town riding three vehicles–one rental, one police car, one rusty pickup. They stepped out into the rain and looked at each other.
“All present and accounted for,” Mulder said.
“What’s the word, A.C.?” Spiegelman asked.
“Everybody is hunkered down and ready,” A.C. told him.
Lightning, then thunder.
“If any of you have an idea about how to get out of this,” Skinner said. “speak up.”
“Ain’t no way out of it,” Zola said.
“Well,” Scully said. “let’s…”
Then they heard a engine. All of them pulled out their guns and rifles and held them in the direction of an approaching motorcycle.
The rider of the motorcycle stopped in front of them. He took off his helmet. They all lowered their weapons.
Ben Hedge looked everybody over, then shook his head. “Damn all of you,” he said.
Then they headed out, seven people total.
The rain continued to fall. It would rain for most of the night.
“Sound wakin’ me up this mornin’ “Death bell ringin’ in my ears…”
All the lights were out in Final. People were peeking around the edges of their windows. They kept their doors locked and their guns loaded.
Some white people in Final had joined up in the march of the Klan. Others just turned their backs out of bigotry or cowardice and waited for the worse to be over.
The black people just waited.
“Sound wakin’ me up in the mornin’ “Death bell ringin’ in my ears…”
Lyndon Owens was driving a Saturn. His car was at the head of the Klan convoy. In the passenger seat next to him was Maggie Morrison. When she wasn’t listening to every word he said, she was staring at his crotch.
“The way I see it,” Lyndon explained. “the major cause of friction between white men and white women is, in fact, the black race. The white man is burdened by the reasonable fear that white women could be sexually assaulted by the black man and the white woman is reasonably afraid that the white man is attracted to the jungle ways of every black woman. That fear translates into sexism and suspicion. Do you understand?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, I do.”
In the pickup truck behind the Saturn, Udell could see the worshipful looks that Maggie was giving Owens, even in the darkness and rain. He fumed and fumed. Next to him, Ed grunted.
“Wut wuz dat?”
Ed grunted again.
“Oh. Yeah, shure, Ed.” Udell smiled. “Iz dethineetely time to kick nibber az.”
“It said that I gotta leave on a chariot. “Wonder what kind of chariot gonna take me away from here?”
Scully watched the old houses pass by as Mulder drove the car. All the houses in town had been standing at least since the beginning of the twentieth century. They were being held up by nails and a prayer. There were no lights and no one walking on the sidewalk. No cars except for their own little convoy.
“I can’t help feel we’re alone on this,” she said.
“It’s an attack on this community, Agent Scully,” Skinner said. “Not us. I’m sure the people here will defend themselves.”
“I know, I know. It’s just…” She pointed at the darkness outside.
Skinner looked around him. “Yeah. I have the same feeling.”
Mulder said nothing, concentrating on a road that he could hardly see.
“My mother told me. “My father told me, too.”
The sound of Malcolm’s singing was distant and faint through the storm, yet Sally Ash was as aware of it as she was aware of the thing she clutched tightly in her hand. She turned her head to the treehouse, located on the other side of Messenger Street. Through the slick windows of her squad car, it appeared to be melting. She watched it from her squad car for a long time.
“One day, that chariot is gonna come for you.”
Finally, she got out of the car, slamming the door behind her. The puddles shook under her boots as she marched to the treehouse.
A few moments later, the ladder unfurled itself. Sally began to quickly climb it.
“And I wonder what kind of chariot is gonna take me from here? “You know the kind of life I’ve been living here, people… “For so many years.”
They met at the train tracks. Those at the front of the Klan convoy saw two cars, a pick-up truck and a motorcycle parked in their way. Lyndon Owens braked his Saturn and those behind him did likewise.
>From the viewpoint of those in the way, they could see the leader get out of his car and talk to someone in the pickup behind him. He had other conversations with a couple more drivers. Then he returned to his car. Four vehicles detached themselves from the convoy while the rest waited and watched.
The approaching Klan members stopped in front of the tracks. Then they stepped out of their vehicles, all of them carrying assault rifles and wearing their hoods and robes. Their total was nine.
At least, right now, they’ve got us outnumbered only by two, Mulder thought. That is, until all those people three hundred feet away decide to join in.
He resisted looking around at the few rickety buildings around him, trying to spot any other players for his team.
He also vaguely wondered if those white robes were waterproof.
“They say the Good Lord forgive the black man for most anything he’ll do. “They say the Good Lord forgive the black man for most anything he’ll do. “Yeah, and I’m one of those kind of people. “I wonder if he’ll forgive me, too.”
They watched each other from their separate side of the tracks. Car headlights rendered them dark outlines to their eyes. The rain coursed down their stern faces and white hoods and dripped off the gun barrels.
A lightning burst gave them a brief full view of everything. They could see that nobody was going anywhere else.
Finally, one of the Klan stepped forward.
“Az leabber uv the Kwan Chapther im Finab, Mizzizzippi…”
“What?” Mulder said.
The man in the white hood cleared his throat and said, “Az leabber uv the Kwan Chapther im Finab, Mizzizzippi…”
“Leader of the what?” Scully said.
“The Kwan Chapther!”
“Oh,” Scully said and suddenly found herself smiling. “Go ahead.”
“Az leabber uv the Kwan Chapther im Finab, Mizzizzippi, I speat for my white brozzers…”
“Wait a minute,” A.C. called out, a smile rising to his face as well. “Where did you say you were from again?”
The man took a breath and said, “Finab, Mizzizzippi. But I speak for white pebble…”
“I’m sorry. Where again?”
A laugh came out from Zola in the form of a snort. A.C. had to clear his own throat to keep from laughing himself. Ben gave them a warning look, but there was a smirk on his face, too. Spiegelman had to kept telling himself that this was a very serious situation.
Fred Udell gripped his rifle tightly. “Do not dare mot the grat white raz. We are the supewior pebble of this worb…”
“Especially the ones from ‘Mizzizzippi,” Mulder said.
That did it. Zola and A.C. burst out laughing. So did the Chief and Ben. Mulder and Scully chuckled. Even Skinner had a little smile.
Fred Udell stomped his feet. “Stop laffing at me, you bassards! I’b kill you! I’b kill evwey laz…”
One of the other Klan members placed a hand on Udell’s shoulder and whispered his ear. Udell shrugged the hand off. The hand came back and this time it was not so gentle. Udell was pulled back and the other Klan member stepped forward.
“I am Lyndon Owens, representative of the Klan,” he declared in a honeyed voice. “We are here to seek justice.”
“Oh, really?” Spiegelman said, still laughing.
“Yes,” Owens said and he pointed at Zola. “We are here for that woman.”
The laughter stopped.
“If you want her, mammy-fucker,” A.C. growled. “why don’t you come over here…”
Spiegelman held up a hand for silence. A.C. shut his mouth, but glowered murderously.
“You’re here for Zola, huh?” Spiegelman said.
“That’s correct, sir.”
“That’s a lot of firepower you got back there for one woman.”
Owens shrugged. “We can’t help it if the black race has such violent tendencies. We need to protect ourselves from their…”
“All right,” Skinner said. “That’s enough of that shit.”
“And who might you be, sir?”
“I’m Assistant Director Skinner from the FBI. We all know that this is all an excuse to wage terror on the people of this town.”
“Now, why would we do that?”
“Because it’s the kind of thing you specialize in. It’s also because Julius Grant is paying you to do it.”
“I’m not familiar with the gentleman. However, this is really an attempt to avoid the main issue. We only came for the woman who assaulted two of our members…”
“It don’t matter if we hand her over or not,” Ben shot back. “You’re still going to attack. So are you going to do it or not?”
For a long time, the rain and thunder became the only sound that you could hear.
Then Lyndon said, “Well, if that’s…”
“You don’t know what’s really going on here, do you?” Mulder called out.
The covered head of Owens turned to Mulder. “A bunch of people facing each other with guns…I think that I can figure out what’s going on.”
“I mean, why Julius Grant has set this all up?”
“Again, what Julius Grant wants is not…”
“Tell him, Scully.”
For a moment, Scully wondered why he was tossing the ball over to her. Then she realized that he was expecting her to do the same thing to Owens that she had been doing to Mulder for years — put doubts in his head.
So, with her best “scientific rationalist” tone, she explained what Julius Grant’s motives were. Letting sarcasm and irony touch every syllable in her speech, she told Owens about Malcolm, Jr.
After she was done, Owens slowly turned his eyes to Udell. “Is this true?” he said in a low voice. Udell gulped.
“I said, is this true?”
Owens lowered his rifle and yanked the hood from his face. His expression was angry and embarrassed. “I can’t believe it. I have organized all this shit…” He indicated the convoy behind him. “…for some crazy old man’s superstition.”
“You’re going to be the laughingstock of the Klan,” Mulder said dryly. “Now, when even the Klan thinks you’re stupid…”
“Wait, Lyndon!” This was a Klan member who turned out to be female. “I know it sounds crazy, but if you would just…”
“Shut up, you bald-headed cunt,” Owens snapped at her. You didn’t need to lift the hood to see the rage on Maggie Morrison’s face.
Owens sighed. “All right. All right.”
The people on the other side of the tracks looked at each other in wonder. Had this whole mess been averted after all?
Owens turned to his Saturn. “Let’s head on…”
Then there was a sound heard through the thunder and falling rain. Owens stopped and tried to identify it. Everyone tried to figure what it was and where it was coming from.
Finally, they figured it out.
It was the sound of a great crowd singing a hymn.
And that’s when things got fucked up all over again.
Malcolm watched the two women — one beautiful, one homely, one calm, one angry. He felt an unease about what was going to be said in the next minute.
The rain fell and fell.
“What do you want to talk about, Sally?” Nadine asked.
“Do you know how the chief feels about you?” Sally’s voice was thick and bitter.
“Yes. I do.”
“No, you don’t. You have no idea about how he really, really feels.”
“What do you mean?”
Sally held something up into the light of a kerosene lamp.
Nadine stared at it.
Then she crawled to Sally on quivering legs. She reached out for…
Sally closed her fist around it and shoved it back into her pocket.
“Where did you find it?” Nadine whispered.
“In Meyer’s desk.”
“Is it…it is really…”
“‘From Malcolm to Nadine with God’s love.’ That’s the inscription on it.”
Nadine’s head bent over. Malcolm sat in the corner and watched her with a feeling of helplessness.
“You know,” Sally said. “for years and years, I’ve been at Meyer’s side, just waiting for a moment when he might indicate that he might love me the way he loved you. I just wanted…” Sally cleared her throat. “I just wanted a bit of hope. But he never stopped loving you, didn’t you? And that love is as sick as it can get. What do you think of that?”
Nadine said nothing.
“Come on, Nadine. You’re supposed to say something comforting right now. You’re the good little woman of Final, Mississippi. Little Miss Virtue. Tell me that you never wanted me to be hurt. Tell me that you never encouraged Meyer to feel this way. Tell me that you hoped that he would love me the way I loved him. Hell, it would be the truth, wouldn’t it?”
The rain ran back and forth over the roof. Lightning flashed behind the curtain covering the window.
“Well? Ain’t you gonna say anything?”
Nadine finally spoke.
She lifted her head and the rage in her eyes made the policewoman flinch.
“Fuck off, Sally.”
They came, eighty men and women in all. The rain soaked the Bibles that they held against their raincoats and their hymn was raised in defiance of the thunder. They strode their way to the train tracks.
And Johnny McDonald was at the head of them.
“Johnny, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Spiegelman yelled.
“Bringing the light of the Lord to this dark situation! I would suggest accepting Christ as your savior now, Mr. Spiegelman!”
Skinner had to grab Spiegelman before he launched himself onto the young apostle. The others tried their own attempts at reason.
“People, this is a highly volatile situation!” Scully called out. “Return to your homes immediately!”
“You don’t know what you’re doing!” Mulder screamed. “The KKK have come for blood!”
“Get lost, you mammy-fuckers!” A.C. bellowed.
No good. The crowd made its stand right on the train tracks. Mulder and Scully couldn’t see past them, but they could hear Owens’s slow, careful voice.
“Who…are you people?”
Johnny made a motion for silence and the hymn immediately stopped. He was in his element. It was undoubtedly the biggest moment of his pubescent life.
“We are the army of God!” he called out. “We are here today to turn back the forces of evil! Tremble in fear for you are in the presence of Christ!”
“Oh, really? And just how are we going to stop us?”
“The Lord has chosen me. He has given me the power to transcend death itself. I’ve seen this power work twice and I know it’s as strong and constant as the wind!”
“Johnny, stop!” Mulder yelled. “It’s not you! It’s Malcolm, Jr.! He was the one who did it all! He was the one who kept those people alive…”
“SILENCE, BLASPHEMER! Do not profane the Lord! He would never grant his power to someone so unholy, someone who would dare to lay a hand on his chosen warriors!”
“And that would be you,” Owens said casually.
“If you don’t believe me…then take a shot yourself.”
Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Spiegelman and everybody else heard that. They rushed into the crowd, trying to push their way through, trying to reach Johnny in time.
Up front, Johnny had ripped out his shirt and was displaying his pale, hairless chest to Owens. “None shall harm me because I am with the Lord! None shall besmirch me because I am with the Lord! None shall kill me because I am…”
No one knew who fired the shot. Or why he did it. Perhaps he did it just to shut Johnny up. Maybe he had been paid by Julius to get the shit flying anyway he could. Maybe he wanted to see if Johnny’s claim was true. Or maybe he did it for the same unfathomable reason that made him join the Klan in the first place.
In any case, it happened just as Mulder and the rest had squeezed halfway through the crowd. They could vaguely see Johnny jump in the air and then land on his feet. Swaying like a drunk man, he turned around with his hands still pulling his shirt open. He had an uncomprehending look on his face. His chest had been blown wide open. Flesh and bones had been pushed aside, letting his heart beat its last in the open air.
Now, when one shot is fired, you might as well fire a few more, right?
That’s what Owens, Udell, Maggie, Ed and the five other Klan members decided to do. They raised their rifles at the crowd…
“GET DOWN!” Skinner yelled.
…and shot and shot and shot.
Some people in the crowd did as Skinner commanded. Others decided to run around screaming and others stood still out of shock. Those on the ground felt the rain become warm and heavy as chunks of meat and bone was spread over them along with crosses and torn Bibles. Mulder and the rest were doing their best to fire back but it was fucking hard to get a bead with the rain and the people running everywhere. Their viewpoint looked like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle being shifted in a box — a haze of dark lines and circles with the frequent flash of red and white. Their ears were filled with a stew of screams, gunfire, thunder and the engines of the Klan convoy.
The rest of Owens’ troops had taken this cue to move forward.
A head was blown off its owner and it fell right next to Mulder’s eyes. He looked at it.
“This is hell,” he muttered.
The head seemed to agree with him.
Malcolm had seen his mother get angry before. Never like this, though. Never this ferocious and mean.
“Don’t try to lay any of your shit on my doorstep, Sally!” she roared. “Don’t blame me because you don’t have the goddamned balls to tell Meyer you love him!” Now, she was on her feet, waving her arms around. “I’m so fucking sick of the way this town looks at me! Like I’m some kind of perfection! At least, that’s when they’re not shooting off one of my fingers or kicking me out of the very church that I’ve served for years! I am…so…tired of everything ugly in this town, everything that gets ignored until it explodes in our face!”
She stopped pacing and glared at Sally. “You think that you’ve got problems, Sally?” She pointed at Malcolm. “Imagine having a son that is practically a god! A son who could kill you with just a thought!”
“Mom…” Malcolm started.
“Shut up, son. Mother’s ranting. And the point of this rant is that I just don’t give a damn about your little problems, Sally. I don’t care about you or Meyer or anything else except my son. So you get out of my damn house or I’ll…”
>From below the tree, there was this whooshing sound. A round hard object arced through the window and landed on the floor. It spewed a yellow gas that filled the whole house in a few seconds. Malcolm, Nadine and Sally felt their eyes water, then blur. A dizziness sent them falling onto their faces.
Another object was fired at the treehouse — a spike with a long rope tied to the end of it. The spike imbedded against the wall. The rope was connected to a gun that came equipped with an ingenious little arrangement of motor and pulleys. The person firing the gun pulled a switch and he was hauled up to the treehouse.
He pushed aside the curtain and looked inside, a gas mask over his face. Like everything else that he had brought with him, the gas mask was constructed out of junk and household appliances.
It’s amazing what you can build in a basement.
The sound of the Klan charge was getting louder and louder. Mulder and the rest were still in the middle of Johnny McDonald’s panicked crowd. They had managed to get a few shots in. Skinner had got Maggie Morrison in the leg and Spiegelman had nailed a Klan member right in the belly. However, they needed to get out within a few seconds or…
Another battle cry was heard. Skinner looked behind him and he saw them all coming — a battalion of black people in their faded coveralls and patched jeans, all of them carrying guns, knives and clubs. Those up front were running in the rain and the rest were riding behind in their trucks. They were young people who hollered their rage and they were old people with a cold fury in their eyes.
Their scream met the cry of the Klan in the rain, striking it head-on, proclaiming that now was not the time for turning the cheek and forgiving the other seven times seventy. It was time to kick ass.
Owens realized that he did not want to be in the middle of this. Without so much as a cry of “retreat!”, he ran off the street and into the shadows of an alley. Udell and Ed did likewise, leaving Maggie Morrison bleeding on the ground.
“You cocksuckers!” she screamed. “You assholes! You…you…you men!”
“Let’s pull out!” Skinner ordered.
Mulder couldn’t have agreed more. He was about to run off when someone jumped on top of him. He found himself face to face with a Klan member. The man’s hood had fallen off and he could see wide eyes, gritted teeth and bulging veins. This was the guy who had taken a bullet in the gut and the pain had driven him into a crazed bloodlust. He had his hands around Mulder’s throat. The agent could fell dizzy and numb all over his neck. What he couldn’t feel was the gun that had fallen out of his grasp. Nor could he reach the gun in his ankle holster.
In situations like this, the hero can usually find a blunt object to grab onto and then bop the enemy with it. Mulder was no exception.
He reached out for the head that had fallen next to him. He grasped it by the nostrils and cracked it across the noggin of the Klansman. After pushing that guy off, he quickly searched for Scully. He saw her under a pile of bodies that included both dead and wounded. He pulled her out of there.
“Let’s go, Scully.”
“Mulder, there are people hurt…”
“Let’s GO, Scully.”
The Klan and the black people of Final were closing in, only fifty feet between them. Those in the middle were dragging themselves away to the cover of their cars and alleyways.
All except A.C.
He had taken a shot in the shoulder and it had ripped off his right arm. He laid on the ground not with a look of pain, but with a look of anger. He acted as if someone had taken away his wallet and not shot off his arm.
“Those mammy-fuckers, gonna get them, gonna get all those mammy-fuckers…”
Zola was kneeling over him, tears all over her face. “I’m so sorry, A.C., I’m so sorry…”
Ben grabbed her by the shoulders. “Zola,” he whispered. “Let’s go.”
“No,” she said. “I’m not…”
“Woman, get the fuck out of here!” A.C. yelled at her.
Zola left with Ben, her body trembling as she ran. A.C. turned himself onto the stomach and began to crawl to his truck.
The Klan and the black people met in Main Street.
The sound made thunder seem puny. The shots, the screams, the shattering of windows, the wet plop of discarded flesh…
In the middle of this havoc, A.C. had managed to get to his pick-up. He muttered to himself, “I may shoot you…”
He grabbed the door handle and yanked open the door. He hauled himself up into the truck, blood smearing over the seat.
“I may cut you…”
He sat up. His contorted face looked out the window. Everywhere, people were being shot, stabbed, and beaten.
“I don’t know…”
He turned the key.
“‘Cause I’m mad…”
He put the car into drive and hammered down the gas pedal. With his one arm, he steered the truck over the pile of bodies, squashing the dead and wounded. He bounced up and down in the cab.
“…and I’m bad…”
Maggie Morrison had managed to drag herself out of the way just as the truck crashed through the vehicles parked in its way. It was headed straight for the Klan. The Klan scattered or got struck by the cracked hunk of metal on wheels.
“…like Jesse James…”
It hit another truck head-on and the two vehicles exploded. A ball of fire mushroomed upwards, defiantly rising towards the dark rainy skies. Metal and glass was fired in a spray that burned and scarred and cut.
The killing went on.
>From a long distance, Julius Grant watched this through his binoculars.
“All right,” he said. “Let’s say we make things really crazy.”
Most of the battle between Final’s black population and the Klan took place around the train tracks. Within an hour, the street was covered with bodies and parts of bodies that were going soft in the rain. Crows and dogs watched carefully, waiting for the violence to subside enough so they could feed.
However, others had strayed from the main battle field, looking for cover and respite. They were also looking for easier opportunities for murder. In separate parts of the town were a number of smaller incidents. Here are some of them:
A group of Klan members rape a 83-year-old black woman with a corkscrew.
Another Klan member is captured by a gang of black children. They tie him down and hammer nails all over his body.
One Klan member plants a bomb in Final’s small library (the one where Malcolm, Jr. did so much of his reading.) However, after planting the bomb, he spots a copy of “David Copperfield.” He remembers how much he enjoyed this book from his youth and finds himself reading it. He gets so engrossed that he forgets about the bomb and gets blown to hell.
A black man and a Klan member see each other at opposite ends of the streets. They both shoot at the same time. They hear a shriek of metal in mid-air and realize that their bullets have struck each other in mid-air. They both decide to take it as a sign and go their separate ways.
And there were stories like these…
Skinner had run to an alley next to a building that contained a dentist’s office and an air-conditioning shop. He was going to kick down a door, then go up the stairs for a higher vantage point to shoot from.
Then he heard someone. He quickly turned and saw a guy so big that his Klan uniform could barely fit around him. The guy was not carrying a weapon. He must have lost it in the battle. Or maybe he just tossed it aside, because his hands were thick enough to be weapons themselves.
Skinner, however, wasn’t giving up his gun. “Get lost,” he yelled, aiming at the big man.
The guy took a step towards him. Skinner pulled the trigger.
There had been too much rain. Too much water had gotten into the gun’s mechanisms. No bullet came out of its nozzle. Skinner pulled the trigger again and got the same result.
Ed took off his hood. His usually dull face now had a grin on it. He tore off his robe like it was a piece of tissue.
Skinner realized that his gun needed a trip to the repair shop, but he kept pulling the trigger. He wanted Ed to think that he was trying desperately to get the gun to work.
Ed charged straight at him, looking like a boulder rolling down a mountain. At the last possible moment, Skinner side- stepped and gave Ed a slug in the back of the neck with his gun handle.
Ed turned around and grunted.
Time for a new approach, Skinner thought.
He tossed the gun aside and held up his fists. Ed took a swing at him with a right hand as big as a peanut butter jar and as quick as a dart. Skinner backed off from it, just as he backed off from the follow-up left. He still kept his fists up, looking ready to fight.
Ed came at him with more lefts and rights. Skinner ducked and dodged every blow. That and his antagonistic pose made Ed angrier with every missed punch.
Skinner knew that he couldn’t keep this up for long. Sooner or later, he wouldn’t miss one blow and this giant would have him then. Or a few of Ed’s buddies might pass by and decide to end this conflict themselves.
Luckily, poor dumb Ed made the mistake Skinner wanted him to make.
Bellowing a hoarse roar, Ed charged at Skinner, his right fist directed at Skinner’s head. The assistant director had his back up against a brick wall, making Ed think that he finally had his opponent trapped. Skinner dodged to the side again, but Ed’s fist did make contact.
With the wall.
It made an admirably large hole. It also shifted Ed’s face from anger to a helpless agony. The agony intensified when Skinner’s foot slammed into Ed’s balls and rammed them up to his eyes.
After that, Skinner got down to business.
After about a minute of punching Ed, kicking Ed and beating Ed into the wall, Skinner had the big man kneeling on the ground. Ed’s bloody, wrecked face looked not only in pain, but it also looked in disbelief. He stared at the man standing above him with the rain sliding down his bald head and the pitiless look behind his glasses.
“You forgot the Eleventh Commandment,” Skinner explained. “Thou Shalt Not Fuck With A Marine.”
With that, Skinner knocked Ed unconscious and went his way.
Ben was a few blocks away from the train tracks when he got shot. He had gotten separated from Zola and had been charging down the street, crying out for her. He didn’t see Lyndon Owens hiding behind a mailbox. He only saw him when Owens suddenly appeared and fired.
Feeling both hurt and stupid, Ben crashed to the wet sidewalk. His gun slid far away from him into the gutter. He grabbed his wounded leg and howled.
With deliberate slowness, Owens strode up to him, his hood removed from his head. A lightning burst lit up his smug expression.
Ben felt the rifle press against his forehead. He held in his moans behind clenched teeth as Owens spoke to him in his country club speaker’s voice–
“Do you believe in God?”
“Do you believe in God, sir?”
Ben looked straight into the Klan leader’s merry eyes. “Fuck you,” Ben Hedge said. “You’re not here to get into a theology discussion. You’re here to kill me and you’re going to do it whatever my answer it. So shoot me and quit wasting my time, you evil asshole.”
Owens blinked. His expression was surprised and uncertain. When he shot Ben, he did it with a mechanical air. He stared down at the body and scratched his head. That hadn’t been as satisfying as he thought it would…
“Drop your gun and hold your hands up.”
Owens had been so lost in his disappointment that Zola had been able to sneak up on him. His hands were trembling as he raised them in the air.
Zola looked down at Ben. She had turned the street corner just in time to see her lover get shot.
She looked back at Owens.
“Take off your robe,” she commanded. “Then pull down your pants and your underwear.”
Owens didn’t react at first, but then he felt the gun’s mouth kissing his neck. Soon, the rain was splashing on his bare bottom.
“Now, bend over.”
Owens whimpered as he complied. Then he let out a cry as he felt metal shove itself between his buttocks. He prayed desperately for the Klan to rescue him. What he didn’t know and Zola didn’t know was that they were being watched.
“This is my fault,” the woman said. Her voice was firm yet brittle. Any second, she could start crying. “My brother and my lover are dead because I didn’t control my temper. It don’t matter that this shit would have started anyway without me. It is still my fault. So, should I get angry with you or should I get angry with myself?”
Owens couldn’t even begin to think of an answer.
“I guess I’ll be angry at us both.”
Zola pulled the trigger and the bullet burrowed a straight line from the Klan leader’s ass to the top of his head. He slid off her reddened pistol to the ground. Then Zola heard clapping. She quickly turned and saw Maggie Morrison using a broken tree branch for a crutch. Her hood had been tossed aside.
“I couldn’t have done it better myself,” Maggie said, hobbling over to Zola. “That sexist asshole had it coming.”
Zola looked back at her with a completely emotionless expression.
“I’ve come to an understanding tonight,” Maggie continued. “The black race is not my enemy. And the white race is not yours. We have the same enemy and that’s men. It’s time that we throw away the past and work as one towards a common goal. Together, we women can make a…”
Zola shot her right between the eyes.
Mulder and Scully had decided to take refuge in Joe’s Diner. Unfortunately…
They froze as two Klan members rose up from behind the counter with shotguns ready. Both of them were wearing their hoods, but Mulder and Scully recognized their voices. They belonged to Spiegelman’s overweight ex-patrolmen.
“Well, well, if it ain’t Mr. and Mrs. Pretty from Washington,” said the one with the wide repertoire of Hispanic jokes.
“Oh, don’t I know it,” the other said as he came over and plucked the guns away from his captives’ hands. “They’re both so pretty that I don’t know who to fuck first.”
“But since we ain’t faggots, I guess we’ll just fuck Mrs. Pretty while Mr. Pretty watches. How would you like that, Mr. Pretty?”
Mulder and Scully glanced at each other. Then they looked back at the Klansmen.
“You don’t have to do that,” Scully said with the right amount of trembling in her voice.
The former patrolmen laughed. “Oh, we have to! We have to!”
“N-n-no, I mean…you can…you can…watch me do it.”
They stopped laughing. “Huh?”
“You can watch me…do it to him.”
“Scully!” Mulder yelled, his voice suitably outraged. “You wouldn’t!”
“Well, hell, that sounds like a show!” one of the Klansmen said. “Go ahead, little lady!”
Scully took a breath.
She looked at Mulder.
She looked back at the hooded men.
First, she shrugged off her wet coat. Then, carefully and slowly, she unbuttoned her soaked blouse and let it slip to the floor. Her hands smoothed back her wet hair from her temples and she gave the Klansmen another look.
The Klansmen cleared their throats, their shotguns still raised.
Instead of taking off her bra or her pants, she turned to Mulder and removed his own coat. He kept a blank face as she stripped off his shirt, exposing his damp chest. Then she knelt down to the floor, her hands trailing down the lines of his muscles.
Now, the other men were breathing hard.
Scully glanced up at Mulder. He was looking back at her. She was worried that he might give her away so she undid his zipper. Mulder was as surprised as the Klansmen were when she reached inside and pulled out his penis.
“Jesus,” one of them said. “that’s a big one there, son.”
Scully stroked her thumb up the penis. Against his own will, Mulder’s blood rushed to his face and he almost went cross-eyed. The breathing of the Klansmen was as loud as a car engine, making their hoods billow in and out. Scully instinctively knew that their shotguns were lowered now.
Out of sight, her hand reached up Mulder’s pants leg and yanked out his extra gun from its ankle holster. She fell backwards and shot both Klansmen dead from her prone position.
“Let’s go,” she said as she quickly got her blouse back on.
Mulder was standing still.
“Mulder, we have to…”
“Just…give me a moment, will you, Scully?”
As the massacre on the train tracks continued, Julius Grant was having a heart-to-heart talk with somebody.
“Well, big buddy, I enjoyed your company. And maybe you kind of enjoyed mine. Or, at least, you enjoyed the way I kept you fed and washed.
“However, I ain’t never been a sentimental kind of man. I’ve had a lot of friends…well, acquaintances that I had to leave behind me. I’ve always been someone to look at the big picture and never worry too much about a little detail, whether it be a friend or an enemy.
“In any case…
“See you later.”
Julius Grant patted his friend on the leg. Then he got into his limo. There were two henchmen in the limo, one driving and the other in the back seat.
Just as the driver stepped on the gas, the other henchmen shot Stonewall in the butt.
The elephant roared and it charged away from the departing limo, pain driving it into a blind panic. Julius watched Stonewall out of the back window and sighed.
“Home, sir?” the driver asked.
“No. Take me to the house of Nathaniel Leed. Then you two boys can call it quits for the night.”
“You want to be alone there, sir?”
“Son, if things go as planned, I won’t be alone for long.”
Even in the din of battle and the crash of rain, everybody heard Stonewall coming. The rumble of his steps and the scream of his pain struck every ear. Julius had positioned Stonewall so his stampede would take him right through the center of battle.
And right over anybody in his way.
You could say that circumstance gave the combatants a brief moment of unity. You could say that bigotry and anger were forgotten in the threat of something beyond those poisonous emotions. You could get grandiloquent and say that the threat of nature can overwhelm the differences that separate us.
Or you could just say that nobody didn’t want to get squashed by that damn elephant.
And a lot of people did get squashed and trampled and tossed into the air like dolls. Some people ran. Other shot Stonewall and discovered to their dismay that it only made him madder.
One of those people in Stonewall’s way was Fred Udell. The last bits of his bruised pride had made him stay in the middle of battle instead of scrambling for safety like Lyndon Owens. Now that he was being chased by an elephant, he was wondering if he had made a good choice.
Especially when he slipped and fell into the swamp of blood and rain on the street.
Fortunately, there are only so many bullets that even an elephant’s tough hide can handle. Stonewall’s charge had turned into a stumble that would end with his life.
Unfortunately, he was still stumbling in Udell’s direction. His final steps were right over the constipated, broken-nosed Klansman. Udell looked up from the ground and his entire view was taken up by a mass of grey flesh. He had a second to get out a brief scream before Stonewall fell on top of him. If anybody had taken notice, the smear under the elephant’s carcass was as much the color brown as the color red.
Nobody took notice because after they killed Stonewall, they started to kill each other again.
The crows and dogs were awestruck as just how well they were going to eat.
Meanwhile, in somebody’s basement…
She couldn’t move. It wasn’t just the straps that were fastened around her. A strange numbness had settled throughout her flesh. Even blinking could only be done slowly.
Above her, she could see a dirty cement ceiling and a high watt bulb.
She could hear sounds — the hum of a furnace, the falling rain, the squeak of feet in sneakers.
The click of metal.
She let out a weak moan, muffled by the gag in her mouth.
The other person in the basement still heard it, though.
“Hello, Mrs. Burnside. You’ll be interested to know that you’re the first person who has ever been down here. At least, down here when I’m conducting experiments. Not even my parents have been witnesses to them. By the way, they’re not in the house right now. Mr. Grant gave them an early anniversary present. I think they’re in Tahiti or Hawaii right now. I’m sure they’re enjoying themselves.
“They’re quite proud of me, you know.” The young voice talked of his parents with a distant tone. “They’re proud of how smart I am. Not too many people my age have the same interest in science.
“Actually, it’s not my only interest. My other fascination is with race relations. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem between Caucasians and African- Americans is not of politics, economics or morality. It’s one of biology. The African-American race is, of course, inferior. Yet I believe that their inferiority does not have to be their destiny. My belief is that medical science can cure the African-American of his biological deficiencies and bring him up to…
“I’m sorry. I’m babbling. This is just a deep fascination of mine.
“But you might be even more fascinating, Mrs. Burnside.” Nadine heard a cart roll over to her. She tried to turn her head, but her muscles remained stiff.
“I know what your son can do. It’s quite miraculous. Mr. Grant has given me a rather astounding explanation for his abilities that I have to admit is not without probability under the circumstances.
“I would like to explore other possibilities, though.
“What if the cause was not mystical, but biological? Perhaps there is something fantastically unique about you…about your body…about your womb. Perhaps the answers are hidden inside in you, Mrs. Burnside.”
Now, she could see his face and those eyes politely looking at her through black-rimmed glasses.
“It will be interesting to find out.
“Don’t worry. I’ve given you a sedative. You won’t feel too much.”
Mulder and Scully had managed to run into Spiegelman on another street after their encounter with his ex-officers. The sound of gunfire had lessened but it still could be heard regularly. It was no longer so concentrated around the train tracks, but popping up in several parts of town.
“Any idea who is winning, Chief?” Scully asked.
“I have no goddamned idea at all,” he answered, then looked at Mulder. “What’s with you? You look all…”
Then the walkie-talkie on the sheriff’s belt crackled. “Meyer, pick up. Pick up now.”
It was Sally Ash. Her voice was rough and weak, covered in static from the rain’s interference.
“I’m here, Sally,” Spiegelman told her.
“Get over here. I need help.”
Spiegelman looked at the two FBI agents.
And all three of them began to run like hell.
The front door was unlocked. Julius entered the Leed family house, carrying an old book. He walked through the dark rooms until he got to the basement door. Light slipped around the edges of the door.
He almost knocked on the door, but decided not to. He almost put his ear against it, but decided not to do that, either.
Instead, he sat down on a chair and got out a bag of circus peanuts.
After running for several blocks in the rain and having a couple of shoot-outs, the sheriff and the FBI agents made it to the treehouse. Sally was waiting at the base of the tree, blood vessels covering her eyes and vomit touching her lips.
“She’s gone,” she told them with a cough.
“What happened?” Scully asked.
“Some kind of…some kind of gas canister got fired into the treehouse. We all blacked out. When I woke up, Nadine was gone…”
“We?” Spiegelman said.
“I was up there…with Nadine and Malcolm…”
“What the fuck were you doing up there with them?” Spiegelman screamed. “You were supposed to be guarding…”
“Settle down, Chief,” Mulder said.
“The fuck I will settle down!” The chief pointed a finger at Sally. “You have screwed up for all time. I trusted you to take care of…”
Sally threw something at Spiegelman’s feet. Mulder, Scully and Spiegelman all looked down.
“Don’t you dare,” Sally whispered. “Don’t you dare talk like that. You have no right.”
She walked away from them to her car. She sat in there with an expression ascold as the rain.
Spiegelman looked down below him, staring at the object as if it was a landmine. It was Mulder who bent down and picked it up.
He held the ring up to Spiegelman’s face.
“How did Sally get this, Chief?” he asked.
The hard look that Spiegelman had carried like armor for years fell apart. He closed his eyes and hunched his shoulders as if he was expecting a blow.
“Scully…go up to the treehouse and see what you can find. I need to talk with the chief.”
Scully nodded. After she had scaled the ladder, Mulder said–
“There’s more to this than just your obsession, isn’t it? I don’t think Sally realizes it yet. She just sees a man who took the ring off a woman’s amputated finger, but it’s even darker than that.”
Spiegelman kept his eyes closed and his mouth shut.
“Tell me, Chief…how was it that you were the one who reached Bob Hoag first? Was it because you were the quickest? Was it because you were the one who saw him first?”
Mulder leaned his mouth close to Spiegelman’s ear. “Or…was it because you were watching him the whole time?”
Spiegelman moved several steps away from Mulder.
“You saw Bob Hoag outside that church. You knew immediately what he was going to do. Maybe you knew even before the wedding day. Whenever you figured it out, you had a chance right then to stop him.
“But you didn’t.
“You may have respected and admired Malcolm Burnside, but he was still the man who took Nadine away from you. Hell, maybe even a little of this town’s bigotry is in you as well, Chief.”
“Probably,” Spiegelman croaked.
“Whatever. You still were going to stand by and watch him kill Malcolm. Of course, you might have changed your mind, but it must have been at a point when it was too late. Or you changed your mind when you realized that he was going to kill Nadine as well. Or…” Mulder waved his hand in a disgusted motion. “…maybe, for a moment, you wanted both of them dead. You know, I’m a profiler, Chief. I can create psychological outlines for human behavior.”
“You’re pretty good at it.”
“Yeah, but I’ll never be able to figure out your motivation completely. I’ve met serial killers who were less fucked-up than you are. Right now, I’m only bringing this all up because I want you to sit the rest of this out.”
Spiegelman quickly turned to Mulder. He looked like a desperate child. “I can’t, I have to protect Nadine, I have to…”
“I can’t trust you. I don’t care if being police chief has been your idea of penance. I don’t want a man like you around because I don’t know how that messed-up head of yours will react.”
Spiegelman sat down in the mud, his rifle dropped at his side. Mulder watched him without pity.
He looked up and saw Scully looking back at him through the ladder door.
“I found this!” She tossed down an object that Mulder caught. It was a soup can with a few wires inside.
“A homemade gas canister,” Scully said as she climbed down the ladder. “Nicely built, actually.”
“Why make something like this?” Mulder asked. “If Julius Grant is behind this and he damn well is, he could supply his henchman with the best equipment on the market.”
Scully came off the final rung. She saw Spiegelman sitting in the mud and was about to speak.
“Don’t ask,” Mulder said. “Let’s go talk to Sally.”
With one last look at the chief, Scully followed her partner to the car. Mulder banged on the window. “Sally! Sally, open this window!”
Sally rolled down the window and looked out at Mulder sullenly. He stuck the gas canister into her face. “Right now, I need you to forget about Meyer and tell me if there’s anybody in town who could make something like this.”
Sally looked at the canister.
Then her eyes widened in horror.
“Oh, Jesus fucked-up Christ,” she said.
Within a few moments, the car was screeching away from the treehouse, geysers of water shooting up from its tires. Spiegelman was left there in the mud.
As Sally kept the pedal onto the floor, Scully said, “I didn’t see Malcolm anywhere.”
“He left before you showed up,” Sally said through gritted teeth. “He didn’t say where he was going.”
“You think he’s heading to the Leed house?”
Mulder said, “I hope not.”
Malcolm didn’t know where he was going, exactly. A noise was buzzing in his head and he was going in the direction where it felt strongest. He paid no attention to anything else except the noise.
He didn’t notice the rain. He didn’t notice how the fighting stopped everywhere he walked. The awestruck expressions that he left on the people going by meant nothing to him. Yet he made a deep impression on everyone else. The look on his face…the sheer feeling that you got from his presence…it made black person and Klansman become still.
Eventually, Malcolm found what he was looking for on Hornet Street.
They were sitting on the curb, dozens and dozens of them. The rain passed through their translucent forms. They looked uncomfortable, confused and grouchy.
One of the grouchiest was Fred Udell. He was being led to his spot by the man in the bowler hat.
“Sit over there,” the man said, looking very exasperated and tired. “I’ll be with you in a moment, sir.”
“Wait a mimmut. Wat’s goib om?”
“I told you already. You’re dead. Now just sit over there until I can…”
“Den why iz my nobe still bwoken?”
“I don’t know!” the man snapped. “Now go sit over there!”
Meekly, Fred took his spot on the curb. The man sighed and turned.
He found himself face-to-face with Malcolm. “Oh, no,” he moaned.
“Is my mother here?” Malcolm whispered.
The man swallowed.
“No, she’s…” the man said in a weak voice.
Malcolm put his face within a inch of the man’s, his forehead touching the rim of the bowler hat.
“Will she be here?”
The man swallowed again. Malcolm squeezed his hand around the man’s jacket lapel.
“Will she?” he asked.
“Soon,” the man replied.
They burst into the house, guns drawn. Julius Grant looked up at them from his chair, calmly munching on circus peanuts.
“Where is she?” Mulder hollered.
Julius’s eyes shifted to the basement door.
The door was kicked down.
They ran down the stairs.
Nathaniel Leed looked up. The mild expression on his face never went away even when they shot him dead. He fell to the ground, a sticky scalpel clenched in his hand.
Shooting him had been a reflex action. After seeing what he was doing, he simply had to die as quickly as possible.
For a few moments, they remained on the steps.
Then Sally sat down and cried. Mulder and Scully slowly walked over to the metal table. Their bodies were trembling.
So was Nadine Burnside. Her fingers were twitching and muscles were jumping all over her face.
Mulder looked up at Scully, a ridiculous hope in his eyes. Was is it possible to be healed ever after this?
Scully silently told him that there was no hope at all. That was as evident as the organs that Nathaniel had laid out on a tray, the long slit in Nadine’s naked torso and the wild look in her eyes.
They could only stand and watch her die.
That was all they could do, anyway.
Malcolm turned and saw A.C. standing up from the curb. The look on his face was no longer a rigorous anger. He just looked sad.
“Let it go, boy. Death is death and life is life and that’s all she wrote.”
“He’s right,” Ben Hedge said. “I’m still grateful for the extra life you gave me, but it wasn’t yours…”
“Shut up,” Malcolm said.
A.C. and Ben flinched.
“Shut the fuck up, both of you.”
“Don’t talk like that to your elders, son.”
That was a voice Malcolm had never heard before. He turned and saw a man that he had only seen in photos, the man with the strong yet kind expression.
“Especially when they’re speaking good sense.”
Malcolm let go of the man in the bowler hat. He walked up to the newcomer as if he were in a dream.
“A long time ago, I defied the natural ways of the world, just so I could have one hour alone with my wife. And look what that caused.” The newcomer waved his hand over the street. “All this suffering flows from that one act of defiance. And my wife…she is now dying a horrible death.”
The newcomer shook his head. “Don’t give in to the temptations of power, son. That is the evil of Julius Grant. Rise above that evil.”
Malcolm felt a hand on his shoulder. It was both insubstantial and tangible. Like the wind.
“I know you will choose the right path. You are your mother’s son and I know the goodness that’s in you.”
The man in the bowler hat watched this. He wondered why he never thought of this before. He held in his breath, waiting for Malcolm to say, “Yes, father.”
Malcolm looked down at the wet pavement.
Then he looked back up.
“Fuck you, too.”
Malcolm pushed his father away. Malcolm, Sr. fell to the ground, shocked and hurt.
“FUCK ALL OF YOU!” Malcolm yelled. He looked around at them with crazed eyes. “What do you think I am? Do you think that anybody can be given this power and simply ignore it? Do you know of any man who could see all this happening and not want to do something about it? I’m…”
Tears spilled from his eyes. “I’m just a human being. And a human being can only be pushed so far.”
Malcolm grabbed the man in the bowler hat again. “That’s why we’re going to my mother. Right now.”
Nadine Burnside finally died.
Mulder looked away. Scully closed her eyes. Sally continued to cry.
Then they heard a cough.
They looked back down and saw Nadine completely healed. Her wounds had vanished. Her skin was still horrifyingly pale and her eyes were still bright with shock.
Yet she was alive and well.
Mulder and Scully quickly undid her straps. Nadine grabbed onto both of them, trying to feel as many people close to her as she could.
“It’s a miracle,” Sally whispered.
A man wearing a bowler hat stepped out from a dark corner of the basement.
“This is trouble.”
“It’ll be whatever I say it is,” Malcolm said, also appearing out of nowhere.
The two FBI agents moved quickly out of the way as Malcolm went to his mother. He held her tightly by the hands. She looked back at him with wide, frightened eyes.
“You…you did this…”
“Yes. I did.”
“But that will mean…”
“I don’t care.” Malcolm turned to look at the man in the bowler hat. “If Death has a problem with this, then he can take it up with me.”
With a very sad look, the man in the bowler hat said, “He will, Malcolm.”
Just like that, the rain stopped.
There was not a sound to be heard.
They all felt it passing. To some, it was like a cold wind passing through a tomb. To others, it was the hot breath of a furnace. Both the living and the dead took notice as the rain stopped and the dark sky hung silently over them. They waited like the animals in the burrows and trees, quietly anticipating the great event that would happen.
Only one person said anything and he was a ghost.
“This,” A.C. said. “will be the mammy-fucker of all time.”
“Well, son, you’re in the shit now.”
Sally jumped out of the way as Julius Grant climbed down the stairs. The Swamp Bible was in his hands and, of course, a grin was on his face.
“You pissed off one of the greatest forces in the universe and he’s coming here to whup your ass.”
“Not if I whup his,” Malcolm replied, his eyes darkly looking at Julius.
“And you can do that…” Julius held up the old book. “…if you have me at your side. So, what do you say, Malcolm? I’m your best hope for…”
Julius’s mouth suddenly clamped shut. His eyes bulged as if someone was grabbing him by the nuts.
Then he changed.
His skin became softer and lighter in color. His white hair quickly changed to brown, new strands sprouting all over his skull. His muscles became tighter as he became younger.
Julius shrank inside his clothes, his head pulling under his collar and his hands retracting into his sleeves. Eventually, there was only a pile of clothes with something squirming inside.
Malcolm went over to the pile. He reached inside and plucked out a trembling little fetus. He took a empty glass jar off a shelf and tossed the fetus inside.
“You stay in there until I decide what to do with you,” he said and put the jar back on the shelf.
“Malcolm, you can’t…” Mulder began to say.
“Not one word, Agent Mulder. Not one word out of anybody. That includes you, mother. This is between me…and Death.”
Malcolm crossed his arms and waited.
The man in the bowler hat closed his eyes.
Nadine wanted to get on her knees to pray, but she felt too weak even for prayer.
Sally watched Malcolm, not fully understanding what was going on but feeling the sickening gravity of the situation.
Mulder and Scully held hands. They knew that observing was the only thing left to do. If nothing else, though, they had a front-row seat to the biggest fight since the angel Lucifer rose up against God.
There was still no sound. It was coming, though. Its presence could be felt like an approaching train.
Very, very close.
Malcolm raised his hands…
It had existed even before time started. It was the void that life took shape in and that’s why life had to pay homage to it. Everything that existed must bow down before it. Every heart must be sacrificed on its altar. It was more than a power. It was a constant. A fact. An inevitability.
There had been times that it had looked the other way on certain matters. There were other great powers in the universe and it had to accommodate them. It acknowledged their right to play out their own dramas just as long as they understood what the end must always be. Even the mightiest had never challenged him.
It was being challenged now.
By a mere human of all things. A human who had been granted powers beyond imagining but a human, nevertheless.
It would not back down. Its supremacy would not be mocked. Even if it meant its own destruction, it would confront the challenger and fight until the bitter end.
It was, perhaps, a little scared.
Yet it would fight. It was facing the young man who stared back at him with unblinking eyes. It would now let him truly know the forces that he had been defying. It would teach the young man the bitter truth of existence. The void was opening up and its darkness unfurled itself, an infinite web that touched every molecule of the cosmos and would not shattered by any man or god who believed himself to be…
“Hold on just a fucking minute.”
By all rights, the voice should have been ignored. The battle should have commenced and the universe should have trembled.
Instead, everybody turned and looked.
The chief of the Final Police Department came down the stairs. He looked over the basement. He could see Malcolm, Nadine, Sally, Mulder, Scully, a man wearing a bowler hat…and something else. Something that he couldn’t describe exactly, but was undoubtedly present.
He stood there with mud all over his ass and water dripping rapidly off him. He had his stern, badder-than-bad look on his face again. After Nadine had driven off with Mulder and Scully, he had figured out who made that canister. It had taken him a minute to get himself up and running.
But he had come, nevertheless.
“I don’t know what’s going on here,” he said in a low voice. “but nothing continues until I get told in clear terms what the hell is this all about.”
Someone told him. They couldn’t remember who told him, but someone must have.
Spiegelman looked down at the floor. “Now…from what you’ve told me…all this shit stems back to when Malcolm, Sr. got killed. Right?”
He slowly nodded.
“What are you getting at, Chief?” Malcolm asked quietly.
“What I’m getting at is…there have been two people whose inexcusable actions have kept this thing going. That would be Julius Grant and me.”
“What do you mean…?” Nadine asked.
Spiegelman held up a hand for silence.
“Since I doubt Grant will do anything to fix the situation…”
Mulder and Scully glanced at the jar.
“…then it’s gotta be me.”
“Sir,” the man in the bowler hat said. “I don’t know what you’re thinking of, but there is nothing you can do…”
“What I’m thinking of, you dipshit, is that I correct the mistake I made.”
The man in the bowler hat blinked.
“Are you serious?” Mulder said.
“Like you said, Mulder, I’m a fucked-up man. If there’s one fuck-up that I can fix, I’m going to fix it.”
“But that’s impossible,” the man in the bowler hat said. “You can’t go back…”
“You gotta be shitting me! You’re telling me that your boss can’t pull this trick off? With him being one of the greatest forces in the universe and all that?”
“Well…he could do it, but…it’s…it’s kind of unorthodox…”
“Hell, man, it’s either that or this mess right here! I think it’s time to get a little unorthodox!”
It was silent in the basement again.
The man in the bowler hat turned to the presence in the room. There was an unspoken exchange of words.
Then the man turned to Spiegelman and said, “You know what you would have to do, don’t you?”
“I’ve kind of figured it out, yeah.”
“All right, then. Yes. It’ll be done.”
Scully spoke up. “Can somebody please tell me what the hell are you people talking about?”
“It doesn’t matter if I do explain,” Mulder said. “If it goes right, then we won’t remember any of this.”
“It’ll go right,” Spiegelman said. “I’m sure of it.”
Then he took a long breath and asked the man in the bowler hat if he could say good-bye.
“Um…well, go ahead…”
Spiegelman went up to Malcolm.
“Do you understand what I’m going to do, Malcolm?”
“I…I think I do. Meyer, I…” Malcolm looked at Spiegelman in awe. Then he turned away in shame. “This is my fault. I lost control. If I hadn’t…”
Spiegelman placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “You were pushed as far as anybody could be, Malcolm. I’m just doing what I should have done before. Of course, I can’t guarantee that you will be here anymore…”
Malcolm shook his head. “Don’t worry about that. Just do it.”
Spiegelman nodded, then turned to the FBI agents. “Well, Mulder, Scully…we didn’t exactly get along throughout all this, but you two are all right.”
“Thank you, Chief,” Mulder said.
“And you two really, really should consider fucking each other.”
Mulder coughed and looked away. Scully blushed, but also smiled.
Spiegelman went up to Nadine.
“I don’t understand what you’re doing, Meyer,” she whispered.
“I’m glad you don’t. I’m glad you never will. Let’s just say that I’m giving you what I should have gave you a long time ago.”
He didn’t touch her. Instead, he turned and went up to Sally Ash.
She looked straight into his eyes and said, “I think I understand.”
“Yeah. And I understand, too. I understand everything.”
He touched her on the cheek. “I hope you also understand that there wasn’t much in me that was worth loving.”
She smiled at him. She reached up to squeeze his hand. “I see more than enough, now.”
He took her in his arms and gave her a long kiss. He held her until the man in the bowler hat cleared his throat.
“All right, all right,” Spiegelman grumbled. “Let’s do it. Just snap your fingers or whatever you…”
Bob Hoag lifted the pistol, ready to let loose the thunder in his head.
He saw Malcolm and Nadine.
Then he saw Meyer Spiegelman.
His ex-football captain was charging straight at him, blocking his aim.
Bob shot him. The red hole that appeared in Spiegelman’s chest didn’t stop him. Instead, he just roared and fell upon Bob.
Bob fired again just as they both dropped to the ground. The heavy body on top of him turned slack. He was trying to push Spiegelman off when other hands snatched him and ripped his gun away from him. Then they started to beat him.
“Stop it!” a voice commanded. “Just hold him!”
The voice of Malcolm Burnside stopped the beating. He and his wife went to Spiegelman’s side. They looked into his distant eyes and knew that there was nothing to do.
“Where’s…where’s Sally…?” Spiegelman gasped.
“Sally!” Malcolm yelled.
The burly twenty-year-old woman shoved her way through the crowd. She had attended this wedding just to see Nadine forever slip away from the hands of Meyer. Only now, she was kneeling on the ground before his bleeding body.
“Yes?” she said, her eyes stinging with tears.
“You make…something…out of yourself. You know why?”
She shook her head.
“Because I…I love you. And my ghost will…come back to kick…your ass if you don’t do right. Understood?”
She closed her eyes.
Finally, she nodded.
“Meyer,” Malcolm said. “I have no words.”
“Then don’t say nothin’,” Meyer told him.
“Well, then. That fixes everything up.”
“Yes,” the man in the bowler hat said. “It does.”
“What about Malcolm, Jr.? Will he even exist now?”
“Possibly. It’s all about the randomness of genetics.”
“Maybe your boss can take away a bit of the randomness.”
“That’s not really his…”
Spiegelman gave the man a look.
“Well…I suppose he could put in a word with the right people.”
“Now, we really must be going.”
“Just a moment…”
The man turned cold in his stomach.
“Don’t worry, you pussy,” Spiegelman said. “I just want to say one last good-bye.”
The man sighed and took off his bowler hat to rub his head. “I really need to get a new assignment,” he said.
Spiegelman turned to the town of Final, the place that he had lived his whole life. He looked over the dusty streets he knew so well, the buildings that he had passed by everyday and the people who had shaped his existence.
He held up both index fingers and grinned again.
“Kiss my Jewish ass, you fucking cracker town!”
Years later after Bob Hoag shot Meyer Spiegelman, Agent Fox Mulder woke up in his apartment and got the feeling that he should be somewhere else. The feeling was so strong that he called up his partner, Dana Scully.
“Hm,” she said. “It’s strange but I had the same feeling.”
“What do you think it means?”
“Well, Mulder, I’ll tell you…I had another feeling, too.”
“I felt like that I didn’t really give a shit.”
“Come to think of it…I felt the same way.”
“See you at work, then?”
They went to the FBI Headquarters building. As Mulder drove to work, he caught part of an interview on a radio music show.
“We’re back with Meyer and A.C. Burnside, the uncle-nephew team whose album, ‘Straight Out of Final,’ has become one of the most successful crossover blues albums ever recorded. Before we get into the music, I have to ask about one of the dedications on your album. ‘To Meyer Spiegelman who gave his life.’ I take it that there’s a story behind that.”
An older man with a Southern accent said, “You bet. Meyer Spiegelman was one brave mammy…uh, one brave man.”
“I take it your parents named you after him, Meyer,” the interviewer observed.
“Yes, they did,” a teenage boy said. “It was the least they could do.”
Christ, Mulder thought, I know I’ve heard those people before…
When he got to work, he got a message that Skinner wanted to see him and Scully. When they entered the office, they found him there with a thick-set woman dressed in formal clothes and wearing a FBI ID card. She wasn’t an attractive woman, but she had a nice smile and an engaging air of quiet self-confidence.
“This is Agent Sally Ash,” Skinner said.
Both Mulder and Scully shook her hand, but they had strange looks on their faces.
“Is there something the matter?” Sally asked.
Mulder and Scully looked at each other.
They decided that they didn’t give a shit about this, either.
“No, nothing’s the matter,” Scully said. “How may we help you?”
“Well…it’s like this. I come from this little town in Mississippi…”
“Final?” Mulder said.
Sally blinked. “How did you…”
“I…never mind. Go ahead.”
“Well…it’s a tiny town but it’s got more than its share of strangeness. Recently, there’s been something happening even stranger than usual…”
A BRIEF EPILOGUE DEMONSTRATING THAT LIFE CAN BE FAIR WHEN IT WANTS TO BE…
As you might have guessed, SALLY ASH left the town of Final for the FBI. She had a long and distinguished career there.
And “Straight Out of Final” was the first of many successful albums for MEYER and A.C. BURNSIDE. On tour, A.C.‘s opening cry of “You ready to boogie, you mammy- fuckers?” would always get the crowd cheering.
Back in Final, ZOLA BURNSIDE and BEN HEDGE took over the Shithole. They gave it a substantial make-over and a new name. The Unspeakable Blues Bar got a four-star review in The National Restaurant Guide who praised it for “cleaning up its act while retaining its vitality.”
REVEREND NADINE BURNSIDE and her husband, MALCOLM, did a little bit of everything that was good under the sun from helping the poor to creating racial justice to raising up four children right.
BOB HOAG spent the rest of his life in prison, but while he was there, he found God and became a preacher who touched many a prisoner’s life. He also wrote a best- selling book titled “How a Murderous, Sub-Intelligent Hillbilly Got Saved.”
Others did not end up so well. ED would end up leaving the Klan out of impatience with Fred. His death would come a few days later when, for some unusual reason, he decided to get into a fight with a bull.
FRED UDELL and MAGGIE MORRISON would also later be found dead due to the result of what was described as “a lover’s quarrel.”
Some who left Final didn’t do too well, either. NATHANIEL LEED would go to Ohio and create “The Institute For Racial Harmony” with the help of LYNDON OWENS. However, the entire institute would be shut down and its founders arrested when Nathaniel attempted to procure a black prostitute for his “experiments.” The prostitute turned out to be an undercover policewoman.
In his later years, JOHNNY MCDONALD would run for Senate on the “Christian Independent” ticket. He pledged to clean up the country of its “moral decay.” Unfortunately, his political career would be cut short by a scandal that involved three women, a trampoline, numerous lubricants and an electric generator.
One of the enemies of JULIUS GRANT found an original way of nailing the bastard. In Julius’s bedroom, a tape recorder was planted. It was activated by remote control whereupon it played the mating call of a female elephant.
After stampeding into the bedroom of his former master, STONEWALL was captured and handed over to a circus. He was tamed and became, in the words of the circus manager, “the friendliest thing on four legs.”
As for AGENT FOX MULDER, AGENT DANA SCULLY and ASSISTANT DIRECTOR WALTER SKINNER…well, you all know what happened to them.
THE MAN IN THE BOWLER HAT? Well, he was eventually assigned to Sarajevo where he was happy to report, “the dead stay dead and that’s the way I like it.”
“For those of you who liked me, God love ya. For the rest of you, I HOPE YOU HAVE A HEART ATTACK!” — Jerry Lee Lewis
Just kidding. Really. Send anything you want to say to
As I said before, this story has been more about the mystique of the South than the actual thing. It’s also been about the mystique of the blues. Now, from what I’ve heard, the great blues players behave with dignity and respect. Overall, they tend to more gentlemanly than the overpaid, pampered, narcisstic white pop-star mammy-fuckers that often clutter up the airwaves.
On the other hand, the blues was created out of an atmosphere of oppression and danger. If you were in an old jukejoint, chances are that someone next to you would be carrying a knife or packing a gun and that someone could be one of the musicians.
A.C. Burnside got his name from two bluesmen — A.C. Reed and R.L. Burnside. Reed is a saxophonist who represents Chicago blues. Burnside is a member of the Mississippi tradition. Reportedly, Burnside once shot a man dead and said, “I just shot him. Him dying was between him and God.”
Granted that this just might be an example of Southern blarney. However, the blues has always had a potent mix of sin, salvation, violence and love at its core. My potrayal of this music here has been a cartoonish one, but I think that it has a bit of truth in it.
I’ve also been quoting a lot of songs here. This is a list of them as well as the musicians who first performed them and the people who wrote them.
1) “Smokestack Lightnin’” performed and written by Howlin’ Wolf. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard this man’s big voice.
2) “Got the Blues for Murder Only” performed and written by Lonnie Johnson. One of the legends of early blues. Widely considered the most technically advanced blues guitarist of his era.
3) “By and By.” This is a traditional gospel song that I picked up off Michael Tippet’s “A Child of Our Time,” a strong (if fairly pretentious) classical piece.
4) “She’s Alright” performed and written by Muddy Waters. Ah, man. For me, M.W. is the King. Louis Armstrong is probably the only musician who has had more influence than Waters has had.
5) “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” performed and written by Sonny Boy Williamson. I confess that I haven’t heard the original. I got this off a Van Morrison album.
6) “Forgetting You.” As was mentioned, this is a slice of Memphis soul. This song was performed by the great James Carr and was written by O.B. McClinton who was also one of the few black country singers.
7) “Wet Match” written by George Jackson, Rosetta Anderson and Johnnie Davis. I got this off a Etta James album and, yes, the wet match is a metaphor.
7) “Death Bell Blues.” I think this was written by Lightnin’ Hopkins. I got it off “Too Bad Jim,” a R.L. Burnside album. I’m not too sure that I got all the lyrics transcribed right. By the way, “Too Bad Jim” also has the song that provided the title for this story — “Goin’ Down South.” Put it on and it will give you an idea of what the music of the Shithole sounds like.
8) “I’m Bad Like Jesse James” written and performed by John Lee Hooker. Fuck Marilyn Manson in the nose. Listen to this song and you’ll know what scary is.
A lot of people insert music into their fan fiction as a way of giving it a soundtrack. I’ve used these songs for the same reason but I’m also trying to be the promoter here. You really should go out and find this music. People have to remember this sound and remember what Waters, Johnson and Wolf have done for our culture. The day that we forget about them is the day that we can truly say that we’re screwed.
CONTINUE TO HEADIN’ BACK SOUTH
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