Slipped From the Calendars
Who could that be? I'd made all my calls from my cell phone and nobody knew where I was. Or so I thought. Maybe some wise guy had finally come to do me in. Or worse, they'd come to arrest me, found out about all the stuff I'd done over the years.
I pointed the gun at the door and slowly stood. I was dizzy, put my other hand on the chair to steady myself, almost pitched forward, the gun swaying like a tree limb in the wind. Another knock and my body jerked. The room seemed to spin down and to the left like a tilt-a-whirl, another split-second glimpse of that burning building, that fire breathing dragon.
"Yeah," I growled, and almost puked.
"Do you have any interest in Jesus, Detective Kraft?" said a voice with an obvious accent, European maybe.
"What?" I choked.
"Jesus Christ," said the voice. "Died for the sins of the whole world. That includes me and it's got to include you too, detective."
Great, some Jehovah's Witness had come to put a silver lining in my cloud. "Look, man, I'm kind'a busy, so piss off."
"I have information about your partner's death. Do you have any interest in that, detective?"
I was hearing things. DTs were setting in as I had a conversation with the door. Who the hell could this be? I tried to think.
"Detective," said the voice. "I'm unarmed and this is very important."
"Aw'right." I managed. "I'm gonna open the door. Step in and close it behind ya. Keep your hands where I can see'm. Any funny stuff and I'll shoot ya right in the face. Got it?"
With my left hand shaking I reached for the door, unlocked it and turned the knob, then slowly backed away. What I saw reminded me of the scene in The Exorcist, when the priest first arrived at the little demon-possessed girl's house.
Silhouetted against the dim lights of the hallway was tall figure wearing a treachcoat and fadora. As he stepped in his hat almost scraped the top of the doorway. With a flick of his wrist the door shut behind him. I could see his face now. He was old, well into his 70s, but not frail. He looked lean and fit for his age. Through round spectacles I could see youthful, piercing blue eyes.
But had I seen something else, something dark and terrible playing back in the glass of those spectacles?
"Detective Kraft, my name is Johann Stryker," he said, pausing with great affect. "We need to talk."
For a moment I was speechless, just stood there staring at the strange wizend-looking man. I then motioned with the gun to the other chair in the corner. He seemed to almost float to the chair, his blue eyes casting a subtle glance around my cluttered room. He looked down and hesitated, then gracefully bent to pick up the long lost remote wedged in the chair's cushion.
"May I?" he asked, pointing it at the television.
I simply nodded, and with a click the televangelist finally shut up.
"Detective," said Stryker after he sat, pointing at the inside of his trenchcoat, "I have something that might help you relax. May I get it for you?"
"Real slow, buddy," I said, noticing my trembling hands, the gun vibrating. "Real slow."
Almost out of thin air, he produced a silver flask half-encased in a black sheath. Tooled into its leather was a Nazi deathshead emblem. As he handed it to me something reflected off the silver, something hypnotic and burning.
"Grand Cru," he said with a slight nod of approval, raising his eyebrows. "Nineteen-forty. Paris. Have some."
"You first, Johann," I said with suspicion.
"Of course," he replied, pulling back the flask and raising it to his lips.
Time seemed to stand still as the reflection off the flask came more into focus. Two tall monoliths were being eaten by a dragon, devoured top to bottom like carnival finger food. I was lost in the moment, still staring at the chilling image when I realized Stryker was again holding the flask out to me. My left hand seemed to gain weight as I reached for it, straining my arm and shoulder. But when I touched it, grasping the leather sheath, the weight lightened, something like rapture as I drank.
Bliss. Exquisite heavenly bliss. Comparing sour mash whiskey to good French cognac, was like comparing jacking off to getting laid by the hottest girl in town. Your still got your rocks off, but the memory is so much sweeter.
My eyes where closed, and at that moment I heard another knock at the door. When I opened them I was alone and the flask was gone, vanished from my hand. But the gun was still there turned around backwards, confronting me again with its hole, my thumb on the trigger. I looked around, thought I heard screaming and could see more holes forming in perfect patterns all across the room.
I closed my eyes and suddenly a horrible vision came to me, clear and lucid. The head of a massive dragon, its jaws closing around a gigantic monolith, mountainous fangs scraping against the structures intricate bulworks, vomiting magma. I shuttered and shook my head. When I opened my eyes Stryker was back seated in the chair, gazing at me with his thoughtful blues eyes like an intimate friend. And the flask, it was clutched tight in both my hands, the way a two-year-old might hold a baby bottle full of juice. And the gun, it sat useless in my lap.
"What do you see, detective?" asked Stryker.
I didn't answer at first, just stared at him for a long while.
"What do ya want?" I finally said, then took another sip of the cognac as Stryker began telling me all about me.
"Your are Lieutenant Detective James David Kraft, born in New Orleans' Charity Hospital on December 7, 1965. Grew up in the Eighth Ward at the corner of Marigny and Saint Claude. When you were seven your baby sister, Amy, died of influinza. Six months later your mother, Mary, died, partially from a broken heart. Your father, Stephen, worked on the docks, but was mainly a two-bit hustler and a part-time prizefighter, a pretty good one when he trained. When you were thirteen he was killed over a gambling debt. Although, some say it was a jelous husband, or because he wouldn't throw a fight, or a combination of all three. What is known is that on March 15, 1979, your father was shot twice in the head on the Saint Charles Streetcar in front of dozens of witnesses who saw nothing.
"Clint Saucea's parents then became your legal guardians; since kindergarten you two had been inseperable. For the next five years you lived with his family on Pauger Street, where you'd spent most of your time anyway.
"Fresh out of highschool you and Clint joined the Marine Corps. Paris Island. Twenty-Nine Palms. Third of the Seventh Expeditionary Recon Group. Task Force Tempest, a secret outfit run by the CIA down in Central America during the mid-80s. You both signed contracts agreeing never to divulge knowledge of the opperations, with a pennalty of life in prison.
"Tempest was legally in Honduras posing as border security against Ortaga's Nicaraguan insurgents from the civil war there. But instead your unit was illegally ordered into Nicaragua, eradicating gun and drug runners that were moving shit up to the US Border. This not only kept the Nicaraguan-Honduran frontier destablized, which is what Washington wanted, it put a lot of guns and dope in the hands of the American black market. Big cash money."
How the hell did he know this?. After we got out of the Corps, I never once talked about it, not even with Clint. We'd done a lot of bad shit down there.
"In '87 the two of you came home and joined NOPD," Stryker continued with a slight chuckle. "A couple of ready-made, bluechip gunslingers with ball-busting-prick cedentials. Lots of street time with the goon squat, lots of arrests. Then you and Clint made a big bust. Nailed a few mid-level flunkies from Panama with a van-load of uncut coke, fresh off the boat. Did it on your time off, which really impressed the mayor and looked good in the papers. The official report stated fifty kilos, but it was more like a quarter-ton."
What the fuck? How could he know that?
"Not long after that, you and Clint started Red Dog. Just thought it up and did it with no approval. If it hadn't worked, not only would you have gotten fired, you would've gone to jail. In one week you got Samual Cates, aka Coup da Ville out of the Magnolia Projects, and Eddy Griffen, aka T-Cutta' from the Lower 9th. Got enough to put them both away for over a hundred years. Everybody, including the feds, had been trying to nail those two for over a decade, with no luck. But you, suddenly out of the blue, made it look easy. A few days later Carl 'Cocky Bear' Watson, another tough cookie who kept slipping though the state attorney's hands, had his brains blown out in broad daylight just around the corner from here. There was never any kind of retaliation and the murder was labled cold in less that 24 hours. From that point on Red Dog was unofficially offical and you and Clint never again darkened the door of a police station.
"Red Dog was run completely on the slick; hardly anyone knew about it. You recruted the sleaziest of the sleaziest and turned Red Dog into an multi-million dollar underground corporation. Eventually even your captain didn't know what was up, but all the money you gave him kept his mouth shut. And you guys made so many big arrests and wacked the ones you couldn't bust, nobody gave a damn."
Stryker leaned forward and pointed a long gaunt finger at me. "Until all this dumb shit two weeks ago, you got a payoff from Circuit Judge Arlin Bishop; caught him in a room full of underage hookers and big bag of nose candy. Assistant DA Raymond Graves also gave you a regular stipend. He likes to sleep with little boys. You use to be able to pull everyone's chain, had dirt on everybody. City councilmen. Local business owners. Firemen. Feds. Even guys in your own department. Explains that big house you got in the Garden District"
Stryker paused and leaned back, looked around the room again as he continued. "Back in '92 you married Lisa Dyson and....."
"Enough!" I shouted, slamming my fist on the arm of the chair, the cognac taking effect. "Who the fuck are you!?"
"I've told you who I am," said Stryker.
"Yeah, yeah," I waved my hand in the air. "You're Johann Stryker from God only knows where." I leaned forward and pointed at him. "How do you know so much about me?"
After a moment of silence his eyes shifted to the flask still in my hand. "May I?"
"Oh." I looked at the flask. The dragon in the silver suddenly stopped eating the monoliths and looked at me. I could see people falling from the monoliths, screaming, fire all around them. They were also looking at me.
"What is it you see, detective?"
The dragon's mouth openned as if it were about to speak, then shot fire at me and I flinched. I looked up at Stryker, his sharp blue eyes gazing hipnoticly through the spectacles. I handed him back the flask, catching another glimps of the deathshead emblem, the tiny swastika beneath it.
He took a slow pull and sighed, examining the flask. "A man named Otto Guntch gave me this nearly sixty years ago."
For a second I thought he was joking, then I realized he was very serious, or insane. "Otto Guntch gave you that?"
"That's right," said Stryker, a slight smile turning the corners of his mouth. "You're a bit of an amature historian, aren't you? You know who Otto Guntch was?"
"Hitler's SS adjudant." I said without hesitation. "Spent 12 years in a Russian gulag. Then went back to Germany."
"Yes." Stryker looked back at the flask, took another sip, then handed it back to me. "Finish it," he said and began telling me his story.