Kitty 2 and I were out of the limo before it even came to a full stop in the mall parking lot. The sky was blotted out by smoke and the sea was roiling. The obelisk’s glow had faded enough that we no longer had to close our eyes. Kitty 2 and I stepped though the broken glass and into the common area. Aside from the corpses of the sacrificed and the cultists who weren’t fast enough to dodge Wolfgang’s van, the place looked uninhabited.
“Any ideas on where to look?” Kitty 2 asked.
“None.” I said.
“Martin!” Kitty 2 yelled. “You here? Bass? Answer me if you can hear this!”
“Over here!” someone said. “In the Lane Bryant.”
Kitty 2 and I rushed into the store where we found Bass hiding under a pile of plus-sized panties. He peeked out at us, but made no move to stand. I reached down and yanked him to his feet. He was trembling.
“It’s over,” he said. “Dagon is coming. There’s nothing we can do now.”
“It’s not over till it’s over,” I said. “Guess who I just met?”
“Elias Waite, or as you might know him, Barnabas Ephraim Waite.”
“What?” Bass stammered. “Impossible.”
“Don’t take my word for it,” I said. “He’s in a limo in the parking lot.”
“But, it makes no sense,” Bass said. “Why wait this long to reveal himself if he’s been alive all this time?”
“You can ask him yourself,” I replied. “Our conversation wasn’t very long.”
“I suppose,” Bass said. “It’s not like it matters anyway.”
“Great,” I said. “Oh, by the way, do you still have that scrap of parchment Kitty 2 found in the dungeon?”
“Yeah,” Bass said. “Why?”
“Waite says it’s his last will and testament, and seems to think it will avert a disaster.”
“There’s already been a disaster,” Bass wailed.
“Yeah, that’s what I told him,” I said. “But you might as well talk with him. It’s not like it can hurt at this point.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Bass said, stepping over bodies and around pools of blood as he made his way to the exit. Martin, Kitty 2 and I followed.
The three of us crammed into the limo across from Waite, who extended his hand without a word. Bass fished the paper out of his robe and handed it to the old man.
“You’re really him?” he asked.
“Indeed, young man,” Waite replied. “You must be Mr. Bass. I owe you a great deal. As I understand it, you have been faithful to my vision for the Esoteric Order of Dagon.”
“Well, we call ourselves the Inscrutable Order of Dagon now,” Bass said. “The Esoteric Order of Dagon isn’t what it used to be.”
“It will be,” Waite replied, squinting at the paper. “I’m afraid my Kaar’le’bal’lach is a bit rusty. Even though I wrote this, I’m ashamed to say I’m not confident in my reading skills. We need someone who can read it, so I can be sure it’s authentic.”
“You don’t remember what you wrote?” I asked.
“I do,” he replied. “But at my age, my memory isn’t what it used to be.”
“Whose is?” I replied. “But can’t you just give us the gist of it?”
“I could,” he replied. “But I don’t think Dagon would be too impressed, and he’s the one we’ve got to worry about impressing in this situation.”
“I know someone who can help,” Bass said.
“Excellent,” Waite replied. “Let’s go find your translator.”
“That might be easier said than done,” Bass said. “Old Murray lived in the hotel, which is now on fire.”
“Good riddance,” Kitty 2 said. “Compared to the Yelp review I was going to write about that place, burning it to the ground is getting off easy.”
“Has he got any other hangouts?” I asked.
“Well, he doesn’t get out much, but sometimes, when he’s feeling lively, he hangs out at the Tattooed Mermaid down by the harbor.”
“Is that a bar?”
“Strip club,” Bass said.
“Please tell me that’s on fire too,” Kitty 2 said.
“I don’t think the fire has spread beyond downtown yet. But it will, so if we’re going we’d better stop talking and start moving.”
The limo headed back toward Innsbruck, which was now a raging inferno. Black smoke reached into the sky like an unholy arm unfurling gnarled black fingers. The streets were empty. It seemed everyone who could had fled into the sea, which didn’t look any more welcoming than the town. When we caught the occasional glimpse of water through the haze, it appeared oil black and roiled as if heated by a great flame.
As we crept forward, a figure stumbled out of the haze and collapsed in front of the car. The limo came to a halt and Kitty 2 and I jumped out. It was Martin. His robe was torn and singed, and his glasses were cracked, but he seemed in pretty good shape, all things considered.
Kitty 2 and I waited for him to quit coughing. When he was done, he looked up at us with terror in his eyes.
“It’s over!” he said. “Gary completed the ritual. Dagon is coming!”
“I thought you were a skeptic.” Kitty 2 said.
“Look around you! The sea is boiling, and the stars have disappeared.”
“The stars are still there,” I said. “It’s just the smoke blocking them out. And the sea’s a little rough, but it’s probably just a storm coming.”
“You’re in denial!” Martin said. “And where’d you get the limo?”
“You’ll see,” I said. “But first, get in. We’re going to the Tattooed Mermaid.”
“You thought now was an appropriate time to go clubbing?”
“It’s as good a time as any,” Kitty 2 said. “But that’s not why we’re going.” She grabbed him and pulled him into the car.
“Then why?” Martin asked, as Kitty 2 pulled him into the limo.
“The Esoteric Order of Dagon is much older than you’ve been led to believe,” I said. “I think that paper Kitty 2 found in the dungeon might hold some answers. We’re headed to the Tattooed Mermaid to see if we can get it translated.”
“I don’t think strippers will be much help.” Martin replied.
“But Old Murray will,” Bass said. “And he told me once that if Dagon ever were to be summoned he would spend his last moments on dry land getting as many lap dances as he could.”
Martin threw up his hands and looked skyward, before dropping his arms to his sides and letting out a massive sigh.
“All right,” he said. “The Tattooed Mermaid it is. If nothing else, I can get a private dance before I’m eaten alive.”
“That’s the spirit,” I said. “You’ve always got to have something to look forward to.”
“Bite me,” Martin said. “And who’re you?” he asked, noticing Waite for the first time.
“Elias Waite,” Waite replied. “A pleasure to meet you.”
“Sure, why not?” Martin said. “Didn’t you write what’s on that paper?”
“It was a long time ago,” Waite said. “And I’m afraid an exact translation is necessary for our purposes.”
Denise cut through back alleys and down side streets, bringing us out on the waterfront, which was still untouched by fire, but no less deserted than the rest of town. The stench of dead fish mixed with the smell of smoke to make breathing a chore. As we pulled up to the Tattooed Mermaid, I looked out to sea and saw a fishing boat sailing away.
Waite stiffened when he saw the boat.
“This isn’t good,” he said.
“Why?” Kitty 2 said. “Everyone in town is running away.”
“That boat,” he said. “It’s got to be headed for Devil’s Reef.”
“So?” I asked. “Who cares where it’s headed?”
“That’s where Dagon will rise from the sea,” Martin said.
“Who could be on it?” I asked. “The high priest and most of his followers are dead.”
“My brother,” Waite said.
“You mean to tell me Ephraim is still alive too?”
“I’m afraid so,” he replied. “Let’s get our translator.”
The Tattooed Mermaid had a giant neon sign of a winking, tattooed mermaid over the door. She was topless, of course. There was no bouncer outside, so I pushed the door open and stepped inside. It was dark and stank of cheap beer and probably cigarette smoke, but with all the smoke I’d inhaled recently it was hard to tell. While Innsbruck was in chaos, the Tattooed Mermaid remained an oasis of calm. While the place wasn’t packed, there were still more patrons than I had expected, all either oblivious to the night’s events or perhaps indifferent. A fish woman in a bikini was strutting her stuff on a small stage, caressing her scaly skin as Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” blared from the house speakers. A small audience crowded around the stage shouting encouragement and waving singles, which she would allow them to stuff between her breasts or in her g-string.
“You see your boy?” I asked Bass.
“That’s him,” Bass said, pointing to a decrepit creature who resembled a desiccated mackerel more than a man, ensconced in a booth in the back of the room getting a lap dance. I walked over and sat in the booth next to Old Murray. He didn’t acknowledge me. His entire being was focused on the rear end of the young woman who was grinding against him. I cleared my throat. Nothing.
“Hey Murray,” I said.
“Murray!” I yelled.
This got me a scowl, but nothing else.
“Murray, I need your attention,” I said. “And if you give it to me now, I will pay for whatever you want. Whatever. You. Want.”
That got Murray’s attention.
“Four girls in the champagne room,” he grunted.
“You got it buddy,” I said. “And I’ll make sure the girls are the kind who aren’t averse to going the extra mile, if you get my drift.”
“I’m listening,” he said.
“I’m here with Arnold Bass,” I said, gesturing to where Bass was standing in the corner, staring at the floor.
“Yeah, I know Arnold. Uptight guy. Who’s the old man with him?
”Would you believe Elias Waite?”
“Then don’t worry about it,” I said. “We’ve got a piece of a document written in Klingon or whatever, and I understand you’re the man to come to when you need a translation.”
“Kaar’le’bal’lach,” Murray said.
“Yes, that’s it.” I said.
“Show it to me,” he said.
I gestured to Bass, who scurried over.
“Give the man the parchment,” I said.
Bass produced the paper from his robe and set it in front of Murray. He pushed the lap dancer away and produced a pair of reading glasses, which he had to hold in front of his face because he had no nose to speak of. He picked the paper up and squinted at it, moving it back and forth until his eyes were able to focus.
“This writing is shaky,” he said. “I’m going to need more light.” He got up and made straight for a door labeled “Employees Only.” I followed. Murray opened the door and stepped into the performer’s dressing room. None of them even glanced at Murray. All of them stared daggers at me, but none of them raised the alarm, realizing I was with Murray. Murray shooed a girl out of a chair in front of a lighted makeup mirror and sat down. He spread the paper out in front of him and started mumbling to himself. He took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses with his sleeve, and then resumed scrutinizing the paper. After about ten minutes, he looked up at me.
“Where did you get this?’ he demanded.
“In a dungeon underneath the mall,” I said. “It was hidden behind a brick.”
“Yes,” Murray said. “That’s either the truth, or you’ve already translated this and know what it says.”
“I never even learned Spanish,” I said. “I promise you I have no idea what that says. I can’t even pronounce the name of the language it’s written in.”
“Yes,” Murray said. “I believe you.”
“Well,” I said. “What is it? Tell me it’s not a dirty joke.”
“What you have here,” Murray said. “Is nothing less than the last words of Elias Waite, the first high priest of Dagon in the New World.”
“So, what does it say?” I asked.
“This document contains Elias’s instructions for the future of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. It is a holy scripture.”
“Yes,” I said. “But what are his instructions? I don’t know if you’ve been outside lately, but it’s really important that I know what that paper says. It’s not an exaggeration to say the fate of the world hangs in the balance.”
“I’m aware of what’s gone on tonight,” Murray said. “That’s why I’m here. But you’re an outsider. I can’t just go around telling our most sacred secrets to strangers.”
“Okay,” I said. “How about this? I’ll leave my credit card at the bar with instructions to let you charge whatever your heart desires on it tonight if you tell me what that paper says.”
“An intriguing offer,” Murray said. “It’s not an American Express is it? They don’t take that here.”
“MasterCard,” I replied.
“Deal,” he said. “The paper says that, in the event of his death, the Esoteric Order of Dagon is to forsake Innsbruck and announce their existence to the world of men. As a gesture of goodwill, the Order will share the ancient knowledge of the Deep Ones with all mankind, so that all may prosper and live together in harmony. There’s also something in here about how his brother Ephraim is an asshole who needs a good, swift kick in the nuts.”
“I already knew the part about his brother,” I said. “But thanks.”
“Just don’t forget your end of the bargain,” Murray said. “I need my overpriced champagne and over-the-pants handjobs.”
“And you shall have them,” I said. “I’m a man of my word.”
When we left the dressing room Waite was waiting, his arms folded.
“He translated it.” I said.
“Excellent,” he said, punching Murray in the gut and hefting the old man over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “The Order needs you,” he said to the groaning man. “You can resume your debauchery after you’ve read what’s on that parchment to Dagon.”
I walked back to the corner where Bass and Martin were doing their best to look invisible.
“Where’s Kitty 2?” I asked.
Martin jerked his thumb toward the stage. I turned and saw Kitty 2 stuffing singles into a dancer’s g-string, a big grin on her face.
“Shake it!” she yelled at the girl, who responded by dropping to her knees, grabbing Kitty 2’s head and stuffing it between her breasts. When Kitty 2 came up for air, she tossed a twenty at the girl, who caught it in her teeth.
I walked over and took Kitty 2 by the arm, gently leading her away from the stage.
“Yeah,” she said. “The scales are actually kind of hot.”
“That’s good to know,” I said. “But it’s time to go.”
Waite was already headed for the exit with his cargo. The rest of us scurried after him.
“So, it’s real?” Bass asked me as we made for the door.
“It looks that way,” I said.
“Then all is not lost,” he replied. “There is still hope.”
“That’s the spirit,” I said. “Now let’s go find Elias Waite and kick him in the nuts, as the scripture tells us.”
“Who am I to argue with scripture?” Bass said.
“Lead the way, high priest,” I said.
Bass stood up straight and marched past me with a new sense of purpose. When he reached a group of men blocking his way, he didn’t even break stride, pushing them aside without a second thought. None of them so much as gave him a dirty look.
“He might be leadership material after all,” Martin said.
We followed Bass into the night.