Old Folks Boogie
Sylvia was fast asleep in bed, with Corbin snoring beside her. She rolled from side to side as her slumber grew more and more fitful. She flopped to her back and her eyes opened. She sat up and rubbed her temples. She threw her head back on the pillow and gazed at the ceiling. In her lower peripheral vision, she saw a shadow on the ceiling by the window just past the foot of the bed. She stared into the shadow as it crept over the ceiling toward the bed. She squinted to make out the ambiguous form. As it crept closer a shape began to resolve. Yellow eyes, like a serpent’s opened and locked eyes with her. As it made it’s over her she could see that it was a grey and withered old woman. She was crawling across the ceiling face down with her legs and hands bent behind her. Her lip-less mouth opened showing rows of sharp black and yellow teeth. Her jaw unhinged like a snake preparing to consume a meal. Her head grew closer as if her neck was stretching down to meet with Sylvia’s. Sylvia frowned in curiosity and poked at Corbin’s back. He snorted awake and rolled over to face her. He gave Sylvia a sleepy, questioning look. She pointed to the ceiling. He looked up in time to see the shadow retreating toward the window and disappearing like a vapor.
“What was that?” Corbin asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“That’s me owing Shelby and apology,” she replied.
Ed Danvers had lost track of time, in his usual fashion. When he jerked his head from his work, he could hear the night clerk having a discussion with a woman and man. The clerk started in calm tones but was getting ever more heated. The woman pleaded with him as the man remained silent and dead-eyed.
“Is there something I can help with, ma’am?” Danvers asked, emerging from his office.
“It’s my husband,” she replied.
“What about him?”
“Someone has stolen his soul.”
The desk clerk looked back and Danvers and shrugged.
“Aren’t I glad I asked?” Danvers grumbled, rubbing his head. “What makes you think his soul was stolen?”
“Well look at him,” she replied, “he’s like a zombie.”
“Maybe that’s because you dragged him out the house at an ungodly hour to report his soul stolen to the police.”
“He’s been like this since this morning. He hasn’t even been to work.”
“Maybe he had the flu. You try aspirin?”
“Detective,” Danvers said walking over to the man. “Sir, are you okay?”
“I don’t know. Something feels off ever since that old lady gave me the Malocchio,” the man replied.
“The evil eye...eyes really. Yellow and slit like a snake.”
“You think she stole your soul?”
“She put some kind of whammy on me.”
“Look,” Danvers said, picking and pen and scrap of paper from the clerk’s desk and writing down a name and address, “I know a guy. He’s good with this type of bullsh...weird stuff. Why don’t you pay him a visit in the morning? Heck, you could probably go now. He’s probably still up drinking.”
“You want us to talk to a drunk?” the woman protested.
“He’s actually more lucid while drunk,” he held out the paper.
“...if you’re not going help us, fine. But, don’t insult us,” the woman dragged her husband off by the cuff of his coat.
Toli’s alarm clock screamed and he sprung from bed pulling his bed sheets with him. He shook himself out and looked at the time.
“Two hours,” he shouted to an audience that wasn’t there, “and I feel like the bee’s knees.”
His cat sat on the nightstand staring at him through narrow eyes.
“Don’t look at me like that.”
Toli brushed his teeth and did his morning business. He then hopped in the shower, whereas normally he stood still as to avoid slipping and got dressed. He went to his wardrobe and selected another suit. Getting dressed in the shower rendered his previous selection sopping wet. This process took an hour, however, this morning he was finished his routine in under 20 minutes. Toli prided himself on never having committed a traffic violation, but on this morning he received a citation for speeding and running a stop sign.
He bounded through the door of his warehouse, flitting between his employees and wishing them a robust good morning.
“Good morning, Jenny,” he said, seeing his secretary at her desk, sipping her coffee. He tossed traffic tickets on her desk. “Could you pay these out of the petty cash, please?” he asked with a maniacal grin.
“What got in your cornflakes?” Jenny said.
“You’ve got the ants in your pants this morning.”
“You said good morning, you’re smiling and most of all, two traffic tickets. You have a new lady friend or something?”
“Can’t explain it.”
“Something’s gotten into you. Maybe it’s because you didn’t sleep at your desk for the first time in a month.”
“Could be,” Toli zipped into his office and slammed the door. Jenny yelped. He opened it back up and poked his head out. “Sorry, Jenny.” He closed the door again.
He plopped down at his desk and rubbed his hands together like a gleeful child on Christmas. He pulled back his sleeve to look at his watch and it wasn’t there.
“Oh dear lord,” he gasped, “I forgot my watch. I’m naked.”
His sprung out of his chair and stormed out of his office. He stood by Jenny’s desk, his head swiveling as he thought. He started to scratch under his collar.
“You know, Jenny?” he said. “I think something’s gotten into me.”
“If only someone had pointed that out earlier,” she said.
“No, I mean, literally. Earlier it was a euphoria, but now it’s starting to feel like a nest of hornets are fighting with a rival gang of yellow jackets inside me.”
“Did you go to a wild party last night?”
Toli stared at Jenny. His eyes popped. He snapped his fingers and pointed at her. He tore off to the warehouse floor and looked in the trash bin he had dumped the strange yellow powder the night before. It was empty.
“Where did the trash go?” he snapped at one of his employees as the passed by. He sounded like a yapping dog.
“We took it out like we do every morning,” he replied.
“Uh, the dumpster,” he pointed outside.
Toli raced to the back of the warehouse where a sanitation crew was clearing out the dumpster.
“Wait,” Toli yelled. “Where are you taking this trash?”
“To the dump,” a trash man replied.
“Who asked you to do that?” Toli barked wild-eyed.
“You. We got a contract with you to haul off your garbage.”
“Right. Hang on, could you?” Toli climbed into a dumpster and rummaged through the trash. He started tossing out bits of refuse and debris. “Where is it?”
“Did you see a yellow powder in here?”
“Yeah, we panned it up and threw it in the truck.”
Toli leaped out of the dumpster like he was an Olympic hurdler and ran toward the stake side pickup full of trash. He hopped in and searched through the rubbish. He began tossing bits out over his shoulder.
“Are you gonna pay us extra to clean up your trash twice?”
“Sure, sure,” Toli said, on his hands and knees routing under the trash. “Ah ha.” He tripped out of the pick up with a palm full of the yellow powder.
“What the heck is that?”
“I don’t know, but this stuff is great.”
Toli ran back to the warehouse on his toes, cupping the powder in his hand like a baby bird. He burst into Jenny’s space.
“Could you give me an envelope?” he asked.
She handed him an envelope and he tipped the power into it and sealed it. He darted into his office and licked the rest off his hand. He threw his head back in euphoria and slipped the envelope into his jacket pocket.
Delareux sat behind his desk listening to a woman telling him about how an old woman had stolen her husband’s soul. Her husband stared at the desk with downcast eyes. Delareux opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of bourbon and a shot glass.
“You start drinking at this hour?” she asked, her face awash in disgust.
“I started days ago,” Delareux replied.
“Are you taking this seriously? My husband is in trouble.”
“In order to do my job properly, I have a code: Once is a kook, twice is two kooks and a coincidence, three times I take it seriously if they pay me enough. Unfortunately, for you and your husband, you’re twice.”
The woman sat back and put her hand to her head, “I can’t believe nobody will help.”
“Maybe he’s just despondent. Have you tried St. John’s Wort?”
She picked up her purse and slung it over her shoulder, “Come along, Howard.” She grabbed his cuff and dragged him to the door.
Delareux watcher her go. He poured a shot and chugged from the bottle. As the woman exited his office, Toli plowed into her.
“Sorry, ma’am,” he said, his pomade laden hair flopping over his face.
“Another drunkard,” she huffed and sped off with her husband in tow.
Toli bounced in grinning like a maniac, “Good morning, Delareux.”
“It’s morning?” Delareux said, taking the shot. “Great. That means that thing is going to be in the sky for hours,” he pointed at the sun out the window.
“I have something I want you to look at.”
“Has your soul been stolen?”
“Well, no, quite the opposite.”
“Good. I don’t want to have to go chasing after that lady and her bored husband.”
Toli slapped the envelope down on Delareux’s desk.
“What that? Your electric bill?”
“It some strange substance I found at the warehouse. It came in from overseas. A whole big crate of it from Latvia.”
Delareux opened the envelope and pulled out a pinch of the yellow powder. He examined it, sniffed at it and tasted it. He spit it out into a trash can.
“Concentrated Rhodiola,” he said. “With a twist. It’s been blessed by a vampire rabbi.”
“What are its effects?” Toli asked.
“I’m looking at them. You been taking the stuff?”
“Just a little.”
“Papa Legba,” Delareux sighed.
“By itself, it’s just a mood lifter, but blessed by a vampire rabbi, the stuff will turn you into an after-school special.”
“Uh, wrong dream, it will turn you into a basket case. How much have you taken?”
“Just a taste...or two.”
“Stay away from the stuff.”
“This coming from the biggest lush I know.”
“Booze may be a monkey on the back, but this stuff is the whole zoo.”
Delareux’s office door swung open again and Sylvia and Corbin walked in.
“Why am I Grand Central Station today?” Delareux grumbled.
“Oh, Toli, you’re here too?” Sylvia said.
“Mrs. Winthrop,” Toli said, avoiding eye contact. “I should be going. I just wanted to bring that to your attention.” Toli nodded to Sylvia, gave Corbin the cold shoulder and stormed from the office, bounding down the street.
“Did either of you lose your souls?” Delareux said to Sylvia and Corbin.
“Not as such,” Sylvia replied, “But did have some information we wanted to share.”
Pulcinella was sitting by his unconscious mother, lying in a hospital bed. He was holding her hand. His other hand was on her small, shriveled head, stroking her long, grey hair. He smiled at her.
“Mama,” he said in a hoarse whisper, “well have all the ingredients for the ritual soon. You’ll be strong again, mama.”
A large brute burst in, “Mr. Pulcinella, sir.”
“I said I didn’t want to be interrupted,” Pulcinella rose, grabbed him by the throat and lifted him off the ground. He carried him out of his mother’s room into the hallway.
“It’s important,” the brute gasped.
“What is it?”
“The shipment from Latvia.”
“What about it?”
“Some of it was missing. There isn’t enough for the ritual.”
Pulcinella punched the brute through the wall. He stalked him through the hole in the wall, knelt down beside him and began striking him in the face. Several more thugs ran into to investigate the commotion. They froze in their tracks as watch Pulcinella punching a bloody hole in the floor where the brute’s head used to be. Pulcinella hoisted himself up and flung the crimson goo from his fist.
“Go to the warehouse where the shipment from Latvia came in,” Pulcinella spat. “Bring me the businessman Palazzo. Make sure he’s unharmed. I want to do that myself.”