Chapter One Pawnbroker of Souls.
Date:- March 1941.
The man watched with hooded eyes from across the street at the small pawnbrokers shop belonging to an old acquaintance, Israel Goldberg, the sunlight glinting off the traditional three balls shop sign into his eyes.
Israel, or Manny as his gentile friends called him, came out from his little office and shuffled in his brown slippers across to his battered old chair behind the counter. A meshed barrier stretched the whole length of the counter.
“Good morning Mrs. Drake what can I do for you.” Manny wheezed, starting the monthly ritual off. “Have you come to place your husbands watch in my safe keeping for the weekend again?”
Mrs Drake gave a watery smile.
“If you wouldn’t mind Mr Goldberg?” She said shamefacedly as she pushed the watch through the gap in the mesh.
Manny sat and made a great play of examining it even though he knew its value.
“It’s a nice piece but you know I can only give twenty five dollars for it. It’s quite worn.” He looked over his half glasses at her not unkindly.
As usual she looked crestfallen.
“Could you let us have thirty dollars till Tuesday, I’m good for it and I’ll be able to pay you back then as my husband’s wages will be in.” She pleaded.
“If I give you thirty I’d be cutting my own throat.” Manny moaned. “But since it’s you I’ll agree, just this once you understand.”
He opened the till and passed the money across.
“How is Mr Drake by the way I haven’t seen him for awhile?” He asked as he put a tag on the watch. “Is he still working down the docks?”
“Yes he is, thank you for asking, but not for much longer as he’s going to join up tomorrow, if they’ll take him.” She said surprisingly cheerfully. “We will at least have a regular wage coming in.”
She crossed to the door and called back.
“Thank you Mr Goldberg.”
Then she left.
Manny sighed. The poor young woman had fallen pregnant at just eighteen and had to marry the father, a young stevedore on the docks. To his credit he works hard to keep his family fed and clothed on what was jokingly called a living wage. But lately the work was getting more sporadic and they were finding it hard to survive.
Manny sighed to himself again as he entered the transaction in his old leather bound ledger.
The doorbell tinkled as someone entered the shop.
“I will be with you in a moment.” Manny called as he carefully blotted what he had written.
“That’s alright Manny you just take your time, after all I have all the time in the world.” The deep voice mocked.
Manny’s head snapped up in alarm.
“What do you want Bruno you know the payments not due till the end of the month?” He said trying to bluster.
“I hear you have been doing really well Manny. You haven’t been holding out on us have you?” It was the man from outside. He was tall, immaculately dressed in a silver grey Italian suit and shoes with silver buckles.
It was Bruno Carlotto, Somehow he escaped the swoop that had swept up the family and most of his confederates. But far from leaving him feeling exposed and alone it gave him the opportunity to take over what was left and start anew.
“Bruno you know I won’t have the money ready till the end of the week. As for being busy I’m paying out more than I’m taking in.” Manny blustered pulling the shawl tighter around his thin shoulders. “On my life that’s true.”
Bruno nodded and then calmly pulled out a revolver and pointed it at Manny’s head.
“I’m sorry to hear that Manny.” His voice showed no gram of sympathy as his free hand plucked a porcelain figure of a knight in full armour off the side table where it sat beside milkmaids and Ladies in crinolines. He casually snapped its neck before dropping it back on the table. “You see you have left me with no option but to warn you. Either I take an extra five percent every week or I shoot you and take the hundred percent now as a one off payment. Choose Manny, you don’t want me angry do you.”
“Okay, Okay I’ll bring you the money.” Manny carefully shut the ledger and tucked it under his arm.
“Leave the book Manny, in fact push it through so I can check it. It’s not that I don’t trust you, you understand, but it could save you making any more mistakes.” Bruno waved the gun to emphasis his point.
Manny reluctantly conceded to the request before shuffling away into the backroom office and his safe.
His many pawned clocks began to strike the hour as he knelt in front of the safe.
Bruno pulled the book through.
Manny rotated the tumbler to the first number and felt it click into place under his fingers.
Bruno turned the book to the right page.
The second number clicked into place.
Bruno smiled at the figures and his avarice grew.
Something was behind Bruno.
The last number clicked into place.
Manny took the money in its envelope out.
Bruno became aware of the presence and began to turn.
Silence, total and absolute silence!!!
Bruno felt light headed with the absence of sound as he turned to face the intruder. But all he could see was his own shocked visage in the six foot headless knight’s polished armour.
Its sword rose for a strike.
Bruno’s gun barked out once, twice but to no avail as the bullets ricochet off the armour.
The knight froze in place as a figure loomed up behind it.
The newcomer was over seven foot tall with a pale greyish tinged skin stretched tight over its bones. It was humanoid but bizarrely wore a pair of large cuffed green gloves and boots, swim briefs and hooded cape of a similar colour.
“I have come for you.” Its voice was a strange duet of a male and a female that echoed as if spoken in a tomb. “Confess your sins!!”
If he wasn’t so terrified he would have found it hilarious. It had all the appearance of a comic strip in the papers.
“What do you mean?!” Bruno yelled crossing himself with his revolver.
The figure lifted its head and displayed two grinning skulls reflected in its eyes.
“You killed Detective Lieutenant Corrigan on whose order? Speak!”
“Do you think I would tell you and the tin man here!!?” Bruno was suddenly flying into one of his infamous rages. The gun barked twice more as he fired at the figure.
He watched amazed as the bullets hit the figure in slow motion and sunk into the flesh with a pool like ripple.
“You can not kill what is already dead Bruno Carlotto.” The figure said calmly.
Bruno panicked and made an attempt for the exit but found he couldn’t move. His feet had sunk into the tiled floor as hands erupted out of it to clasp his legs. “Who were you with? Who ordered Corrigan’s death!!?”
Bruno fired every bullet he had left in the pistol at his tormenter. It swelled in size until only its head filled the room, millipedes and other bugs crawling out of its empty eye sockets, nose and mouth.
The hands pulled him down further into the molten floor.
He screamed and begged God for forgiveness.
“I am the Spectre of Gods vengeance!” The huge head screamed. “I am the Avenger! I am the Seventh Seal. I am Judgement.”
Bruno screamed out a final plea.
“I don’t know who set Corrigan up. I just got the message from Laura to do the hit and half the money up front! ” He was yelling at the figure. “I’m telling the truth! Please let me go!”
Bruno heard a clank of metal on metal. He turned just in time to see the knight’s sword flash down and take off his head.
It dropped still alive into a pair of disembodied hands that drew it screaming into the tiles surface.
Then suddenly the clocks finished striking the hour.
When Manny re-entered the shop with the money he found it quite empty and quiet. He opened the wire cage door and went to the main door of the shop and looked outside for Bruno. He shook himself a moment and looking down at his empty hands and closed the door. He adjusted his skull cap and pulled the shawl tighter around his shoulders. Ignoring the screaming face locked in the tiles at his feet he crossed over and retrieved the ledger. He didn’t see the porcelain figures on the little table, he didn’t see the dried blood on the knight’s blade or the headless figure of a man in an expensive Italian suit, wielding a revolver, with silver buckles on his shoe.
For a second he thought he saw a woman standing in horror in the corner of the room but when he blinked she was gone.
Picking up the pen he began entering Mrs Drake’s transaction in his old leather ledger but stopped when he saw it was already entered.
He looked up at the clock on the wall and saw he had lost a quarter of an hour somehow.
He felt uneasy as if something was crawling at the corner of his senses.
He frowned, totally oblivious to a woman’s scream filling the air.
In the Darkened room another card was turned over to real the image of a man casting a spell, ‘The Magician’.
A scream that resonated around the Royal Free Hospital, echoing off the sterile walls. A voice no one heard.
The Doctor’s Charles McNider and John Jones found Steffi standing beside the iron lung in the side ward and carefully directed her back to her bed in the opposite side ward.