Chapter 4

The next morning I went into the office early. Kitty was waiting by her bowl, giving me a dirty look, so I fed her and put on a pot of coffee. I put Kitty 2’s new mug on her desk and went into my office to check my YouTube account. The video of Kitty 2 being dangled out a window was doing pretty well. It had already garnered ten thousand hits and seemed well on its way to going viral. Most of the comments seemed to be from men commenting on how nice Kitty 2’s legs were, but the comment at the top was from user Kitty 2. It read, “I’ll get you for this.”

I was pouring myself a cup of coffee when Kitty 2 came in. She shooed Kitty off her desk and picked up the mug I had bought for her.

“For me?” she asked.

“Yes. A little souvenir from my trip yesterday.”

“You know this mug would be a lot funnier if it were ironic in some way. My therapist really does keep telling me that I’m crazy to keep working here. She keeps urging me to quit. She just shook her head when I told her you called me Kitty 2 because of the cat, and I’m afraid to tell her you just stood there recording me while I was being dangled out of a window by goons. I think it might make her cry. She’s very sensitive.”

“That’s why sensitive people make lousy therapists,” I said. “If you’re going to listen to people tell you their problems all day, the key is to be totally indifferent.”

“Well, I guess you’d make a great therapist, then,” Kitty 2 said.

“I would,” I said. “But don’t get any ideas. I don’t want to know your problems.”

“You already know my problems,” she said. “You’re the cause of most of them. Why were you at a mental hospital anyway? I know you didn’t have a sudden flash of insight.”

“I was trying to save myself some unnecessary work,” I said. “I’ve been hired to appraise an outlet mall and the guy who they hired before me was in the mental hospital. I was hoping he had finished the job before he went nuts, but no such luck.”

“That’s too bad,” Kitty 2 said. “I know how you feel about work.”

I shrugged. “You can’t win ‘em all.”

“Why’d the guy end up in a mental hospital?”

“As far as I can tell his wife had a shopping addiction that drove him over the edge.”

“Poor guy.”

“Exactly.”  I said. “And I guess it finally got to him.”

“So what’s on the agenda today?” Kitty 2 asked.

“I suppose I should look into going to Innsbruck and checking out this outlet mall.”

“Where’s Innsbruck?”

“I’m not sure.” I said.

“Let me look it up,” Kitty 2 said, sitting down at her desk.  She spent a minute or two typing and then frowned. “I can’t seem to find an Innsbruck anywhere in the tri-state area.”

 

I decided to consult my library, which consisted of a real estate appraiser’s handbook, Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. 26 (Pre-Colombian-Sacred), the 1997 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and a 1969 road atlas. I plucked the atlas off the shelf and started leafing through it. I found Innsbruck. It was on Route 33, in between Shanksville and Scupperton; two places I had heard of and was pretty sure were still listed on maps.

“Look at this,” I said, showing Kitty 2 the atlas.

“Look at this,” Kitty 2 said, pointing at her computer screen.  There was no Innsbruck between Shanksville and Scupperton.

“Huh,” I said. “Maybe this Innsbruck place is a ghost town. Maybe everyone packed up and left years ago.”

“Why would there be an outlet mall there, then?” Kitty 2 asked.

I shrugged. “Maybe there’s not. Maybe Mr. Waite doesn’t know what year it is. He really didn’t seem like the type of guy who keeps up with current events, but his check cleared, and that’s really the only thing that matters.”

“So, What’re you gonna do?” Kitty 2 asked.

“I suppose I’ll drive out there and take a look around,” I said. “I mean, even if there’s only a burned out shell of a building, it’s still gotta appraise for more than that house I appraised yesterday.”

“Well, if you’re going out there I’m coming with you.”

“Who’s going to mind the office?”

“Kitty.”

“Who’s going to record Kitty if she knocks stuff off the desk or something?”

“Kitty can perform without an audience for once,” Kitty 2 said. “Sitting around here gets boring.”

“You just got dangled out of a window yesterday,” I said.

“That was yesterday,” Kitty 2 said. “I probably won’t get that lucky two days in a row, and besides, Rex is off working a case, so that really leaves me with nothing to do all day.”

“You could try organizing my files,” I said.

“Yeah,” Kitty 2 said. “I was saving that for a special occasion, like the end of the world.”

“All right,” I said. “You can come. It’s going to be a long drive and some company might be nice.”

“We’ll take my car,” Kitty 2 said. “There’s no way I’m listening to The Art of the Deal again.”

It was a two hour drive to Shanksville, a quaint little town that depended largely on the tourist trade for its economic well-being. Its claim to fame was that it was the site of the first major prison riot in the United States. The town was called Pittsfield until 1876, when a man named Wilberforce Shanks was incarcerated at the local prison for beating several people at a local tavern for looking at him funny. A generally ill-tempered man, he hadn’t been imprisoned long when he used a sharpened piece of metal to murder a guard and then set fire to a large part of the prison, resulting in the death of many prisoners and guards. Once order was restored, Shanks was dead, but he had given his name to any sort of improvised knife, achieving eternal infamy.

Pittsfield tried to put the incident behind them until the Depression killed the town’s other industry, and an enterprising chamber of commerce president had come up with the idea of renaming the town, doing tours of the old prison, and holding a weekend- long festival every year culminating in a reenactment of the riot. I had never been, but I had heard good things.

Kitty 2 had one of those new European cars, the kind that you can fit 63 clowns in, but only two actual people. It wasn’t all that comfortable to ride in, but the upside was it was easy to find a parking space. She managed to slide the car in between a lamppost and a fire hydrant, and we got out to stretch our legs.

Kitty 2 went to get a latte, and I went to see if I could learn anything about Innsbruck from the locals.

I wandered around the town square for a while. Preparations for the annual festival were obviously underway. Municipal workers were picking up litter, planting new flowers and cleaning the pigeon droppings off the statue of Shanks, standing on the corpse of a dead prison guard, his hand, clutching the weapon that now bears his name, thrust over his head in triumph.

I went into a local pharmacy and sat at the lunch counter next to an old man nursing a cup of coffee and frowning at a newspaper through a pair of bifocals. He made eye contact with the waitress behind the counter and she came over and topped off his drink before asking me if I wanted anything. I ordered a coffee, which she delivered with three creamer packets.

“The coffee’s crap,” The old man said. “You’ve been warned.”

“Then why are you drinking it?” I asked.

“It’s cheap,” he said. “And old habits are hard to break.”

I sipped the coffee. The old man was right. It tasted like someone had ashed a cigarette in it.

“Nice town you’ve got here,” I said.

“You should see it come festival time,” the old man said. “The prison riot reenactment is something to behold. Did you know they use three fifty-five gallon drums of fake blood every year? “

“No. I didn’t know that. If I get a chance I’ll have to check it out,” I said. “I’ll bet they don’t have anything half as impressive in Innsbruck.”

The old man looked down into his cup. “What’s your interest in Innsbruck? Shanksville’s got a lot more to do and see,” he said. “I’m kind of the unofficial welcoming committee around these parts, and I’ll be more than happy to show you around town.  I was born and raised here, and spent twenty years as a long haul trucker. The happiest day of my life was when I gave up the road and settled down. Well, it would have been, if retirement hadn’t made me realize I liked my wife a lot more when I only saw her every three months. So, I spend my days here at the diner, and she gets the house. You could visit the Chamber of Commerce and get a map, but it won’t take you anywhere interesting,” the man said, nudging me with his elbow.  “My tour, on the other hand…”

“While your offer is tempting,” I replied. “My girlfriend has her heart set on visiting Innsbruck.”

The old man grunted. “There was a time when Innsbruck was known for its shopping,” he said. “But not many people have reason to go there now. It’s an odd place, not very welcoming to outsiders these days. And people ‘round here tend to avoid it. Ther’re lots of people who’ll tell you crazy stories about Innsbruck. About how the townspeople made some kind of deal with the devil once the bypass was built, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in those stories. People like to talk is all. You see people from Innsbruck around here every so often, and they don’t seem all that different from you and me, truth be told. I suppose you can go there if you want, but I don’t know that there’s much to see. You’d be better off stickin’ around here for the festival.”

“I do enjoy a good re-enactment of tragic events. In fact, I lost my virginity in one of the medical tents during a high school field trip to the annual Gettysburg reenactment, but I’ve got a schedule to keep.”

“Well, feel free to stop by the festival if you get bored in Innsbruck.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll do that.”

I hopped off my stool and went outside. I found Kitty 2 leaning against her car sipping from a gigantic cup of coffee. She had put on large Jackie-O style sunglasses even though it was overcast. She was frowning.

“I got recognized,” she said.

“From a wanted poster?”

“You know what from!” Kitty 2 hissed. “The barista didn’t ask for my name when she took my order. She just wrote ‘Window Dangler’ on my cup.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s the Internet. Tomorrow there’ll be a video of a monkey riding a skateboard or something and everyone will forget you ever existed.”

“God, I hate you,” Kitty 2 said. “I hate you so much I probably should just keep this to myself, but I think we’re being followed.”

“Really?” I said. “What makes you think that?”

“Well, it was the two goons that followed me into the coffee shop and then followed me back here and are now sitting on a bench across the street pretending to read upside down copies of Ladies Home Journal.”

I looked across the street, and there were indeed two large men in cheap suits who seemed very interested in their choice of reading material. I couldn’t see their faces, so I couldn’t tell if it was the same two goons from yesterday, but I was willing to bet it was.

“Let’s play it cool Kitty 2,” I said. “Act like you don’t notice them.”

“You really don’t have to call me Kitty 2 outside the office,” she replied. “Your cat’s not here.”

“She’s here in spirit,” I replied. “Now let’s get going. I want to make Innsbruck before lunch.”

“Did you manage to find out anything?” Kitty 2 asked.

I told her about how many drums o fake blood the prison reenactment used. “Man, I’ve got to see that someday.” Kitty 2 said. “That sounds almost as good as a Gwar show.”

“I didn’t know you were a Gwar fan,” I said.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” she said. “Now let’s get going.”

I offered to drive, but Kitty 2 said she didn’t trust me that much, so she got back behind the wheel, and we headed out of Shanksville. I fiddled with the radio dial, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t country music or talk radio, so I decided a game of punch buggy might break up the monotony. When I saw a red Beetle going the opposite direction I yelled out, “Punch Buggy Red!” and gave Kitty 2 a good, solid punch in the shoulder. Kitty 2 didn’t respond. She didn’t say a word. After about ten minutes another Beetle came down the road. Kitty 2 rolled down her window and opened the sunroof.

“Mace Buggy Blue!” she yelled, producing a can of pepper spray from out of nowhere and blasting me right in the face.

“AAARRGH!” I yelled. It was difficult to yell. My throat was closing up. I undid my seatbelt and stuck my head through the sunroof. The wind helped blow some of the tears and mucus out of my eyes, but I still couldn’t see. Lucky for me, it started to rain. I turned my face up and let the water wash the poison out of my eyes. When I could see again I sat back down. Kitty 2 closed the sunroof.

“You could’ve just said you didn’t want to play Punch Buggy,” I rasped.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Kitty 2 replied. “If you can see again, I need you to consult that atlas of yours. My GPS is on the fritz and I haven’t seen a single road sign for Innsbruck.”

I opened the atlas and squinted as best I could.

“Are we still on Route 33?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“Then the turnoff for Innsbruck should be up here on the right, I think. If we hit Scupperton we’ll know we went too far.”

“Don’t you think it’s odd that there aren’t any signs?”

“The guy who hired me said it was hard to find, but I’m sure we’ll find it.”

The rain intensified, and Kitty 2 turned on her lights and wipers. Fog set in, and our progress slowed to a crawl. After about half an hour I saw what looked like a turn-off.

“There,” I said, pointing. “That’s got to be it.”

“You’d better be right,” Kitty 2 said. “I’m not stopping at some dilapidated farmhouse to ask directions. I’d rather not end up as stew.”

“Kitty 2,” I said. “I’m surprised. I didn’t know you were racist against hillbillies. And besides, the last documented case of cannibalism in this state was in 1983 when the health department shut down the Martense Diner.”

“Hillbillies aren’t a race,” Kitty 2 replied. “And they haven’t documented any more cases of cannibalism because anthropologists keep disappearing.”

“Speaking of which,” I said. “I’m getting kind of hungry.”

“You should’ve had something to eat in Shanksville,” Kitty 2 replied. “We’re not stopping until Innsbruck. If there is an Innsbruck.”

Chapter 11

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?”

“Who?”

“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.

Nothing.

“Murray.”

Nothing.

“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?”

“No.”

“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.

“Well?”

“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.

“Enjoying yourself?”

“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.