I’ve written a new story for Richard Leider’s anthology, Hellfire Lounge 3: Jinn Rummy, published by Marietta Publishing, currently scheduled for Summer 2012 publication.
The theme is the jinn, or genies, and I went back to a character I had used in a previous story (which originally appeared in Moonstone Publishing’s Vampires: Dracula and the Undead Legions, and is available in my eBook, In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other Stories on Amazon.com), Leo Persky, a.k.a Terrence Strange, intrepid reporter for the tabloid newspaper, Weekly World News.
Here’s the first 1400 words or so, which will either whet your appetite or confirm your worst fears...
Vodka Martini, Straight Up, Hold the Jinn
The first thing you’ve got to know is, I never intended to let this particular genie out of the bottle.
The second is, I’m not using that expression colloquially.
My name is Strange. Terrence Strange...which might mean something to you if you happen to be a reader of the supermarket tabloid, Weekly World News. If, on the other hand, you only know me from around the neighborhood supermarket near my West Twenty-Seventh Street residential hotel, then you would likely call me Persky. Or maybe even Leo, if I didn’t get on your nerves. As in Leo Persky. Age forty-seven. Five foot seven, one hundred and forty-two pounds of bespectacled, balding ink-stained wretch, or what the world calls a reporter. Of course, the ink stains are old, left over from an early age; nowadays I used a computer.
I’m called Strange for a lot of reasons, but the one that matters is that it’s my nom de plume, or pseudonym for those who prefer Latin over French, not to mention a family legacy. Most people know the News from casual perusals at the checkout lines at Ralph’s, Safeway, 7-11, and other fine retail establishments. There’s usually a little smirk on their faces as they flip through the stories of presidential consultations with extraterrestrial envoys and haunted toasters terrorizing a Cleveland suburb. You’re probably one of the smirkers, the ninety-eight percent or so of the thinking world who think we make this stuff up. But it helps people to believe that. I mean, how well would you sleep if you knew that the only thing that had driven back an invasion of the Pacific Northwest by a subterranean civilization of radioactive mole people was their genetic aversion to frothy coffee drinks?
We report the news, you decide.
Whatever gets you through the night.
What gets me through most nights is the History Channel and vodka. Which is not to say I’m addicted. I can turn off the TV, even in the middle of a documentary on Hitler’s Bunker (especially the ones that don’t even mention the time machine or der Fuhrer and his new bride’s attempt to escape into the future), and I’ve even been known to leave a bottle with some vodka in it. Not that you care about my “oh, the things I’ve seen!” rationalization to overdo it and treat my body like a temple to overconsumption and abuse. Werewolves and vampires, demons from hell, hideous mutations of science and nature, aliens whose concept of humanity reflected ours of the world’s bovine population, etcetera, etcetera, so on and so forth. It made great copy but didn’t do much for one’s psyche. Remember earlier I asked how well you’d sleep if you knew what was really going on? Well, I know, and the answer is: Not well.
But drinking alone in your room is bad. Standing up in front of a room full of strangers drinking bad coffee in a church basement and saying, “Hi, my name is Leo and I’m an alcoholic” bad. So I didn’t. I don’t even keep a bottle in a room. Sure, most drinking establishments closed at some point in the darkest of the dark night, but others don’t. Seeing as how I live more or less in the center of the universe as a resident of Manhattan Island, finding a drop to drink was seldom a problem at any hour.
The hour on the night in question happened to be three thirty-three in the ante meridiem. I had spent the previous four hours in my bed on the fourteenth floor of the Saint Stanislaw Hotel alternately tossing, turning, getting up to pee, watching TV, reading, peeing again, then trying to switch things up and make it interesting by turning first before I tossed, getting up somewhere in between to pee some more. But I knew no matter what I did, sleep was not in my immediate future.
I had spent the last five days on the road, on the trail of a serial killer working its way through the Midwest. My choice of pronoun is deliberate; my killer was neither a he nor a she, and not in an interesting Lifetime network ode to transgendered choice kind of way. This one wasn’t even human, but some entity from an alternate dimensional plane which could wear humans like a skin after consuming our tasty innards. Thirty-eight empty sacks of human flesh were found scattered across eleven states before some national crime computer finally got its algorithm in gear and put two and two together.
A tip from an FBI insider to my editor, the fabulous and scary Rob Berger, sent me scampering westward in time to almost become victim number forty-six. That I didn’t was only because of the dumbest of luck (the only sort I ever have, and thank goodness for that) and a conveniently placed chemical tanker truck bearing a yellow number four on its N.F.P.A. I.D. That’s the National Fire Prevention Association’s way of warning that this particular tanker carried materials capable of detonation and/or explosive decomposition or reaction at normal temperature and pressure. I made it my business to memorize their warning system and symbols. I have needed, on more than one occasion, something blown up or incinerated on a moments notice. Propane tanks available at every hardware, convenience, and big box store across the country were also convenient. It shouldn’t be any surprise how many of the icky things, natural and supernatural alike, are vulnerable to fire.
But that was all the boring “why” of my situation. All that really mattered was, I couldn’t sleep. So I finally got up, got dressed, and went out to a place I knew be open for an insomniac to grab a few belts to help rock himself to sleep.
Gentrification had found my neighborhood, but side streets of squalor managed to slip past the of architects imaginations and retained the previous century’s accumulation of filth and grime. The stately but hardly saintly Saint Stanislaw Hotel stood smack dab in the middle of one such block. It had opened its doors on April 14, 1912, the same day the Titanic was struck by a U.F.O. two hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland. The fortunes of the old place sank about as quickly as the big boat. Most of its existence had been as a low rent residential hotel, but make no mistake, transients, as the hand painted sign hanging out front assured passersby, are welcome.
The Saint Stanislaw shared the dark little stretch between two major north/south Manhattan thoroughfares with a parking lot and a regularly rotating roster of storefronts for rent. A few perennials seemed to survive all economic conditions. There was Ralph’s Chinese Hand Laundry, where I send my shirts to be hand ruined, Koskiosko’s Kosher Kounter (Koskiosko’s ham and cheese on Challah with a kosher dill and a bag of chips is a delight and a steal at $3.99), three Korean nail parlors (Lee’s Sunshine Happy Rainbow Nails, the Original Lee’s Rainbow Sunshine Happy Nails, and Senior Lee’s Original Lee’s Happy Happy Double Rainbow Nail Spa), a shop selling typewriter ribbons (I don’t know to whom), a plumbing supply store open only to the trade, and two taverns, the Chelsea Inn and the aptly named Bucket of Blood (West), one on either side of an old upholstery shop that had been gated and its windows painted black since around the first time Gerald Ford tripped coming off of Air Force One. The Inn and the Bucket, both owned by the same dubious gent whose name appeared on the liquor licenses, closed at normal hours. But once the lights went off in the two licensed joints, they were switched on in the Black Hole, the unofficial name given the barebones afterhours drinking hole in the gated store that filled the hours when it was otherwise illegal to sell alcohol.