The Caldera's Vice

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CHAPTER 44

A Chilling Secretary

Renshu stood at the front door of an affluent estate in Mammon. Unkempt, with a semi circle driveway and a dry fountain in the front. He strolled to the door and rang the bell. A few minutes passed before a withered, graying white demon in a simple black three piece suit answered.

“Good morning, I am detective Renshu Karasu. I was curious, is Dr. Kemp Leonard Manson available?”

The demon shook his head, slow and mildly irritated.

“Well, would you be so kind as to give me an estimation as to when he will be back?”

Again, the demon shook his head.

Renshu licked his lips.

“Will it be alright if I stayed in the driveway until he returns?”

The demon sighed and shrugged.

“Are you mute, my fine sir?”

“Piss off,” the demon grunted and shut the door.

Renshu cleared his throat and brushed off his suit jacket before walking back to the Daimler. Manson’s files lay on the passenger seat, glowing yellow against the powder blue leather. Renshu flipped through the loose leaf documents. University degrees, honoraries, a double Master’s and two different doctorate degrees. Chemistry and poetry. Renshu’s cigarette hung on his lips, stuck from the precipitation.

“My, my, my what a divergent mind you have.”

On the top of the files, a sepia toned photo showed the chemist’s face, his sallow features exaggerated the bruisy bags beneath his eyes, his face an expressionless void of perpetual exhaustion.

“And such a clean record.”

Renshu sighed and tossed the file to the side before leaving the Daimler again and making strides for the door, giving it a few more raps.

“Excuse me, I have grounds that Doctor Manson has been involved in suspicious behavior,” Renshu told the disgruntled butler, “Therefore, I am entitled to a search of the premises.”

The butler sighed, turning away from the door and letting Renshu in.

“Does he have an office in which he conducts his work?” Renshu mused to the silent butler who in turn nodded and gestured for the detective to follow him.

Down a hall to the left, just in front of the fireplace, the butler lead him. It was a simple hallway, seemingly added on as it didn’t boast the luxurious red carpet and instead a simple Oriental rug atop a wooden floor. The butler stopped in front of the final door at the end of the hall and opened it with a groan.

“Thank you,” Renshu tipped his hat but the butler only snorted and walked back down the hall.

Wooden floors extended to the back of the room where the sunrise filtered in through the pale chartreuse sheer of the curtains. A desk turned towards the window caught his attention, an oil lamp on one side and several piles of papers spread across the top.

He pulled back the hard cushioned wicker chair and perused the malaise. Sloppy, small, tightly spaced, erratic handwriting covered the papers marked by scrambled poetry, doodles and chemical equations. All of them seemingly disjointed from the others, even some of the sections on the same page. He came across a folder, however, marked:

CONCOCTIONS

“Hm,” There was a little musing in his tone, his lower lip pushing up against the upper, as he opened the file. Professionally written chemical equations, ingredient names, analyses, and results covered each page in the same chicken scratch handwriting. Across the top left hand corner of the page was a title:

Trial Batch Re: interview for Silas MaCallister distributions.

Strain: Saint Debbie

Assignment: Remove impurities up to 90-93.0%

Deliver: May the third, 1924 to 1717 Belial Blvd. Hellhole

Renshu paused at the name, grinning.

“Well, that name sounds a little familiar.”

He flipped through a few more files. One of them was a doodle of a demon with curling backwards horns and a pleasant smile, a name scribbled beneath which he squinted to read.

Asher.

His brow furrowed, “Interesting.”

More flips through the paper uncovered doodles of the young man with backwards horns and the same, warm expression.

“Hm,” he mused, closed the file, and slipped it into the inner pocket of his top coat. With a smile, he moved on out of the office, and walked down the hall to find the butler dusting.

“Excuse me,” Renshu rose a finger.

The butler grunted.

“Do you have a teletalky I may use?”

The butler nodded over to the left wall where a golden teletalky sat perched.

“Thank you,” Renshu tipped his hat to the butler and ambled over. He dialed the police station.

Welch answered, looking as annoyed as ever. His existence being a laborious and fateless chore.

“May I speak to Officer Price?”

“She’s in the med ward.”

Renshu paused, licking his lips.

“I will speak with her later, then.”

“Uh-huh.”

Welch hung up before Renshu could respond, leaving the detective to muse, tapping the rotary with the back of his fingers. He broke away and ambled towards the butler.

“I am leaving for a quick errand. If Dr. Manson returns please tell him that Detective Renshu Karasu dropped by and would like to have a word with him.”

The butler sighed, and walked over to a desk on the other side of the room and returned with a paper in one hand and a pen in the other.

“You want me to write it down?” Renshu rose a brow but the butler shrugged and handed Renshu the items who in turn obliged before he handed it back to the butler and headed for the door.

“What an odd man,” Renshu muttered as he walked with a brisk pace to the Daimler. He held the address from Manson’s CONCOCTION files and headed over.

An office complex towered over him, a few of the windows were boarded up but otherwise visibly functional. He walked up to the front door, tried for it, finding it unlocked and strolled inside.

A desk was wedged up against the side of the hallway. Vomit green faded carpet stretched to the elevator shaft at the hall’s end. Not a soul to report. On the desk sat an electronic button. It buzzed for a few seconds before he released the pressure of his finger from it.

As he waited, he fingered the outline of the folder in his suit pocket. After a few, long minutes he pressed the buzzer again but the elevator at the end of the hall dinged and opened.

From out of the shrieking doors strolled an onyx she-demon. If not for her seven foot tall stature, her ram horns curling behind her ears made for an absurd height, dwarfing him by a foot.

“Good morning,” he offered a smile, tipping his Bogart as the she-demon approached but she didn’t return the salutation, only slipping into the desk seat. Her silver lizard eyes flicked over him, devoid of any semblance of emotion.

Her voice was cold and husky, “Can I help you?”

“I am Detective Renshu Karasu and am working on a drug case in Hellhole,” he held out his hand, which she pumped once in turn with an icy grip.

“Ruth Stephord.”

“My leads have turned me up here. Have you had any dealings with a chemist known as Dr. Kemp Leonard Manson?”

Her expression remained neutral.

“Can’t say I have.”

“It’s very important that I know what relation he has to this building,” he took out the file, which she seemed to ignore in favor of watching his movements. A piercing stare unlike any other that left him uneasy. He showed her the picture and the note with the address and the information he’d found earlier.

“This is the headquarters for the electric bulb factory across town,” she said, pushing the files away. “If we do have a chemist by that name, I’m unaware.”

“If I may ask a question, Mrs. Stepford?” Renshu said, raising his finger for permission.

“Shoot.”

“What is your occupation here?”

“Miss Stepford,” she corrected him, retaining her vapid tone “I’m a secretary.”

“Miss. Pardon me for my mistake.”

She nodded, offering no further comment or prodding to continue.

“Are you familiar with Silas MaCallister?”

“No.”

“Have you noticed any suspicious activities in this building? Perhaps after hours?”

“I make it a point to not work overtime.”

“There hasn’t been any suspicious activity during your working hours?”

“I don’t care about my position here, if we’re being frank,” her husky voice dripped with apathy, “In which case, whatever happens outside this complex is of little concern to me.”

“Do you have records for the workers at the bulb factory?”

“No.”

“An address, perhaps?”

“No.”

It was quiet, he fumbled for words but the black goddess in front of him didn’t offer any validation in her unreadable gaze. His voice trembled a little.

“A name?”

“No.”

It was silent.

“Well, thank you for the help, Miss Stepford,” Renshu bowed just a little.

Ruth closed her eyes, respectfully, and bowed back at him.

“I try,” sincerity and sarcasm mingled, indiscernible in her tone, “Anything else, Detective Karasu?”

Her tone suggested she was finished with the conversation, but it was only a hint lest she betray any emotion.

“No, I believe we are finished,” he extended his hand to her and she shook it in one, deft, pump, “It certainly was a pleasure, Miss Stephord.”

“Likewise.”

He ambled away back towards the door. As he started the car, his hands trembled, but he ignored it and drove back to the Manson estate.

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