Crescent City Creeps #20



The Night Before

Ehrlich approached the doors of the restaurant flanked by two imposing, undead bruisers. A well-dressed man stepped in from of them and eclipsed the door. He gave pained looks of recognition to Ehrlich’s zombie bodyguards. He looked down at Ehrlich with hard eyes and crossed his arms. The look in his eyes suggested he was fantasizing about tearing Ehrlich asunder.
“Are you going to let me in?” Ehrlich asked.
“I should tear you limb from limb, see?” the doorman said.
“But you won’t, because your boss wants a meeting with me.”
“I knew these men.”
“They were strewn about my warehouse when I returned in the morning.”
“They don’t deserve this.”
“Waste not, want not. They don’t know the difference they’re dead.”
One of the zombies sneezed in the exact timbre and pitch of the word ‘bullshit.’
Ehrlich looked over his shoulder, “I can send you back to the grave.”
“Heck no, I ain’t goin’ back there.”
Ehrlich smiled at the doorman, “See? They’re content.”
The doorman returned a grim stare, then opened the door for Ehrlich and his zombie guards.  The inside was dark, save for the soft, dim orange light that hung over every table. The far wall was one big mirror with gold filigree swirling about the surface. The gold on the mirrors and the brown wood of the tables were the only other color in cramped establishment beside red. Red carpets, red walls with thin gold stripes and red trim. Pulcinella was seated in a corner booth, all the way in the back, facing in the door. He had a myriad of dirty plates stacked in from of him and was working on another. As Ehrlich approached, Pulcinella tore a long strip of meat from a rib bone. He caught sight of Ehrlich and stopped eating, leaving the lash of meat dangling. He gazed at Ehrlich with dead eyes, then chuckled and resumed eating. He chomped the meat into his mouth, then sucked his fingers clean. Ehrlich stopped at the edge of his table and looked at him askance. Pulcinella tore off another rib and looked up at Ehrlich. He gestured to the chair with the rib.
“Sit,” he gurgled through his sauce covered lips.
Ehrlich coughed and held back a choke as he lowered himself into the seat across from Pulcinella. Pulcinella slurred some more meat off a bone.
“Signore,” he said through a mouth of pork, “I have a bone to pick.”
Ehrlich hummed.
“I visited you last night.”
“I know, I heard.”
“This is how it is now. I’m Caesar.”
“Are you? Last year, Rasputin was here. And there is a Nazi trying to take over my business that claims he was Genghis Khan.”
Pulcinella stared at Ehrlich, then shook his head, “I’m building an empire and I need an army. You are making it hard to build an army. You’re taking all the good people.”
“Is that your concern? Many have been expressing a similar concern to as of late.”
“It stops now.”
“It stops when my project is complete. Then you can have the lot.”
Pulcinella leaned back and let his head dangle to the side, starting at Ehrlich with his mouth open, bobbing up and down with every breath, “Keep going.”
“There is no ‘keep going.’ You can have the men when I’m done with them. I’m not making a deal with you, I was just going to let them rot. You can simply have what I have no use for anymore.”
“When is that?”
“When I’m done.”
The corners of Pulcinella’s mouth pulled down and he shook his head, “No. I need men now and you’re taking them all. It stops.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Pulcinella sprung from his chair with stunning alacrity and swung at Ehrlich’s head with a wooden stick, with a sap affixed to the end. A zombie grabbed it before it made contact. Pulcinella flopped back down.
“You lose your bearings quickly in a negotiation, don’t you. Straight to the killing. Now that that’s off the table, what’s your stratagem? You want a deal? We have many of the same problems. For instance, you met my associates last night.”
“The krauts?”
Ehrlich puffed.
“The gerries,” Pulcinella bounced as he chuckled and looked like a baby about to fall asleep.
“...yes. Take care of them and I’ll lend you a portion of my labor force. I’m sure they’re satisfactory for whatever little ambitions you’re pursuing. And as I said, you can have the lot after I’m done with them.”
Pulcinella pursed his lips as he nodded, he eyes fell dead on Ehrlich, “Okay. I can live with that.”
“Now, after you get the Nazi wizards off the board, you’ll have another problem, but I’m sure you’ll figure that out all by yourself. I’ll be long gone, you’ll have all the manpower you need.”
“La Strega?”
“I don’t speak mongrel.”
“Witch. And that detective.”
“You’re more astute than you appear.”
“I know war. I know my enemies. That’s easy when it’s everyone,” Pulcinella leaned over the table and laughed, open-mouthed, in Ehrlich’s face.
Ehrlich waited for Pulcinella to flop back in his chair, “If you’re interested, they’ll be mounting an assault on my associates tomorrow evening.”
“What luck, eh, signore?”
“It’s not luck. I arranged it. You can help them, then afterward, turn on them. That’s what I’ve instructed my men to do.”
“Cattivo. But not my people, eh, signore? Because you would never do that.”
“It’s up to you. But if you want people to play gangsters with you in your little clubhouse consider the offer.”
“How many?”
“How many what?”
“How many men are you going to give me?”
“How about half my manpower?”
“Okay. Why not?”

“You know,” Corbin began, “After we get rid of Ehrlich’s Nazi goons, his zombie werewolves are going to turn on us.”
“I’ve thought about that,” Delareux said, “Planning accordingly.”
“If you have a plan at all I’d like to hear it,” Sylvia said, “I know we were in a tough spot when we agreed to this, but now we’re not. Why are we still entertaining this?”
“You want them here, doing their fifth column whatever?” Corbin asked.
“Let Ehrlich handle it, he’s got the manpower.”
“We’d still have to handle the victor of that battle. It’s really just a matter of which ones we’d rather fight. An army of zombies or a few fascist, shapeshifting wizards.”
“Tom,” Shelby looked up from her feet, “What was your plan for when Ehrlich turns on us.”
“Find the nearest exit,” Delareux said, “Palazzo, you’ve been in there. I’ll need a map of all the exits.”
“Wait, wait, wait, I’m with Sylvia, here,” Toli said.
“Sylv...right, carry on,” Sylvia said.
“Like them duke it out then see what the terrain looks like after the dust settles.”
“Strike before the dust settles,” Corbin said, “When they’re spent and off balance. Or better yet, with a zombie army at our back. We just need to take precautions for when the fight is over.”
They sat in the quiet for a moment.
“What’s your mind on this, Delareux?” Corbin said.
“I have family I don’t visit enough in Philadelphia.”
“What about you, little mouse?”
“The zombies would make it easier.”
“Christ almighty,” Danvers said, laid out on the couch, his arm draped over his eyes, “Is this cop work now? Zombies and werewolves,” he swung his legs around and sat up, poking a finger toward Delareux across the room, “I swear this stuff sniffs you out. Before you came to town, I was locking up thieves, gangsters, and drunks. Now I have to start buying silver bullets. That’s expensive.”
“I have plenty if you need them,” Corbin said, “If you don’t mind them being monogrammed.”
“That’s pretty neato,” Shelby said.
“You all looked at me like was an idiot,” Toli said.
“Yeah, but, when were you going to get a chance to use them?”
“Right now.”
“But were they really an occupational hazard?” Corbin asked.
“I’m going to go out for a cigarette,” Toli slapped the table and lifted himself up.
“Seconded,” Delareux said.
“I’ll join you,” Corbin stood.
“I was going outside to take a break from you lot,” Toli said.
“There’s an idea I can get behind,” Davers grumbled, tapping his cigarette on his silver case.
“Now that the purpose has been defeated?”
“Look, Palazzo, I just need a smoke, okay? I’ve been mauled by wolfmen.”
“Does that mean he’s going to turn into one?” Shelby asked.
“You were such a quiet, little angel all night. What went wrong?”
“Their lycanthropy seems to be magically endowed. You’re probably okay,” Sylvia said.
“Probably?”
“I’ve dealt with these things before.”
Danvers looked at Corbin.
“I only have experience with the regular kind,” Corbin said.
“When I gave myself a psychosomatic werewolf allergy, I was thinking of the regular kind and I’m allergic to these. Something to think about,” Delareux said.
Danvers looked at Toli, “You’re somehow now the one I hate the least.”

Sylvia and Shelby sat in silence listening to the grandfather clock clunking in the corner.
“I wish you could have a normal childhood,” Sylvia said.
“Yuck, don’t wish that,” Shelby stuck her tongue out.
“You would have had one had your father survived.”
“He was normal?”
“As they come.”
“Like, Mr. Palazzo normal?”
“Exactly. But went Yalda gets you back for whatever petty slight he thinks your responsible for he likes to make it sting as much as possible.”
“There was an explosion?”
“That’s the story in the papers. Yaldabaoth shot your father in the head, right in front of me. He wanted to make it clear that my daughter would grow up an orphan, while I was trapped in an interdimensional prison. Just a helpless ghost in this dimension. But, no sense dwelling there and giving myself flashbacks. Are you coming with us tomorrow? It’ll be sure to generate future flashbacks.”
“Yeah,” Shelby snorted, “I wouldn’t miss it.”
“Wouldn’t you rather go to school, play games, talk to friends your age about how Jimmy Dorsey is the bee's knees?”
“If that’s my only other option...I’d rather die at 12 from a werewolf.”
“That’s the Rosenkreutz in you.”
Toli walking patting his pockets, “Has anyone seen my lighter.”
Shelby held up her hand and was twirling Toli’s lighter between her fingers. She waved her hand and the lighter disappeared, “It’s in your breast pocket.”
Toli reached in his pocket and pulled out his lighter.
“Vagrant,” Toli huffed and stormed out.
“Is that what you’re doing with your power? Pickpocketing?”
“No, the lighter was in his pocket the whole time. It’s the only one he wasn’t patting when he walked in. This is Tom’s, I picked it off him earlier. I didn’t use magic. It’s sleight of hand.”
“Is that what Mr. Corbin calls it?”
“He called legerdemon, domain or something.”
“This is the magic I’ve been working on,” she raised her hand and pulled it down across her. A shadow spread over her until it became so dense, Sylvia could not see Shelby who was three feet in front of her, “I decided to concentrate on light. I control light, I control the shadows. I’m at my best in the shadows.”
“That’s a little obvious, though, I’d know something was strange.”
“I’m still working on it,” she raised both hands and made circular patterns in the air. The room went dark, save for shapes of light chasing along the wall, like a revolving St. Martin’s Lantern. A figure appeared wearing a grey suit. His hair was slicked down and jet black. He stood facing the corner with his hands clasped in front of him.
Sylvia jumped at the sight of the apparition.
“It’s me. I’m doing that,” Shelby said.
“Why is he standing in the corner facing away from us? It’s unsettling.”
“I can’t do faces. Or hands for that matter.”
“Optics.”
“What’s that.”
“The study of light. I’ll have Barclay pick you up some books from the library.”
“Books?” Shelby scrunched her face.
“How do you expect to gain mastery over something if you don’t understand it like a sibling?”
“Okay, I guess. I bet Mr. Corbin has books on it. He’s got books on everything.”
“I’d take up painting too.”
“Painting,” Shelby’s eyes wandered.
“Painting is the understanding of light, given expression. I bet it would help with your faces and hands.”
“I could use one of those dusty, old rooms no one goes in. It’ll be great.”
“Exciting. I’m hungry. How about you?”
“Very.”
Sylvia rang a bell. Moments later Barclay peeked in the door.
“Yes, ma’am?” he said.
“Have the werewolves make more of that French onion soup. That was fantastic.”

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