Detective Thomas Pillar finds the test of a lifetime when a spate of killings lead back to a child—and the demon hiding within. Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, other fine eBook vendors and Gypsy Shadow Publishing at:
Detective Thomas Pillar had no premonitions of the day ahead. He didn’t know he was about to clash with a sadistic lunatic on Railston’s only suspension bridge. In one gut-wrenching moment, Pillar was forced to make a life-or-death choice that left the entire city shaken and set a madman’s plan in motion.
Now, months later, it’s starting again . . .
This time, Pillar is investigating a string of rage-filled murders, and all of the clues point to the most unlikely suspect—a twelve-year-old named Seth Morrissey. The child seems nice, if a bit lonely, but something malevolent and demonic lurks beneath his surface. While Pillar searches for answers, the thing inside Seth prepares for a showdown that will rip Pillar’s life to shreds and pave the way to hell on earth.
As the body count rises and Pillar’s marriage begins to unravel, he races against time to stop the force that is pulling all the strings. But how do you destroy the demon without killing the innocent child? This is Pillar’s dilemma. This is Pillar’s story.
This is Pillar’s Fall.
Word Count: 108400
Pages to Print: 345 /ALSO COMING in PRINT!
. . . Tom opened the door. Ross was already back in his gleaming silver car, revving the engine impatiently. Tom moseyed down the front steps, reminding himself not to call it silver. Ross preferred the technical term quicksilver. He climbed in the car, and the BMW 850CSi jerked into motion before Tom had shut the passenger door.
“We feelin’ anxious today?” Tom ventured, looking at his partner.
Ross Medford grinned, his eyes hidden behind a large pair of sunglasses, his blonde Brad Pitt hair slicked back, his lips barely hanging onto a toothpick.
“No, I’m feeling the rails. What are you feeling?”
“Curious at the moment. You gonna tell me where we’re going?”
The BMW took a corner, screeching as it went, heading out of Tom’s middle-class neighborhood at a speed that would have Tom’s neighbors calling to complain later. Everyone in the surrounding blocks recognized the Ross-mobile by now. Tom saw it in the disgruntled faces of joggers and the frustrated gazes of children who had been restricted from street football because of a certain crazy driver. Not that Ross had ever caused an accident. He cared way too much about his V12 super car to let that happen. But if there was one thing Ross was good at, it was looking like he didn’t care.
“The subway,” Ross answered, wheeling the BMW out of the residential area and heading toward the highway, site of another favorite game: speed-weaving.
“Why are we going to the subway?”
“To feel the rails, of course.”
Tom rolled his eyes. Shoulda known. “Ever think of getting a new catchphrase?”
“Don’t need one. Already got the perfect one right here. I’m feeling the rails. I’m running on all cylinders. I feel the momentum beneath me. I’m at peak performance. I mean, come on, haven’t you ever sat on the subway and listened to the rails slipping by? It’s freakin’ poetic is what it is. Feel the rails, Tom.”
“You are so deep.” Tom laid his head back on the seat. “You know, the rails usually make me sleepy. And I’m feelin’ em now. Yes, sirree, I would say if I don’t hear some sort of stimulating information in the next five seconds, I’ll be out like a light.”
The BMW took another corner, forcing Tom’s head off the seat.
“That’d be too bad,” Ross commented. “Because then you wouldn’t hear about the terrorist I’m about to bust.”
“Is this the same satanic-cult wacko you’ve been talking to on the Internet for the last three days?”
“The one and the same.” Ross grinned again. “I told you I’d bank on this one.”
“You’re always telling me you’ll bank on something. Last month you announced you’d make detective early by banking on copper theft. Spent a whole week staking out a hotel under construction as I recall. And the only thing you really banked was a lecture from the boss on the misuse of overtime.”
“Copper theft was too small time,” Ross admitted. “We live in a post-9/11 world. If you want to make a name for yourself, you gotta aim for the higher threat levels. Bag yourself a backwoods militant set on blowing up a government building and you’re talking to Brian Williams by the end of the night. I’m finally in that ballpark now, and I’m almost at bat.”
“We’ll see,” Tom said. “What makes this one different?”
“The difference is that I made contact with the guy’s kid. I spoke to his son and the boy’s going to arrange a meeting. The bastard actually has his son doing his secretary work. He even emailed me a photo so I’d know how to identify dear ol’ dad.” Ross shuddered with nervous excitement. “He’s one creepy-looking fucker, too. Dark greasy hair, skin as pale as the moon, and a long trench coat—he might as well wear a sign that reads TACKLE ME. I’M A TERRORIST.” He flashed his conspiratorial smile at Tom. “So we’re going to the subway, where this guy is going to buy some illegal arms off of us.”
Tom cocked an eyebrow. “Illegal arms? Off of us? Gee, if I didn’t know better, I’d say we were riding close to entrapment.”
Medford shrugged. “Eh, maybe. I’m not worried about it. The moment we bust this guy, we get permission to search his house, and boom, there’s all the proof you’ll ever need.”
“This guy’s stockpiling?”
Another shrug. “Probably.”
Tom rolled his eyes. “Probably . . . damn, you make me nervous.”
Ross snickered. “Hey, that’s half the fun of having me for a partner. I don’t think you’ll be complaining when Boss T promotes us to detective-lieutenants.”
Tom gazed at the world beyond the window, mainly guardrails and traffic cones, a few family vans with no families in them, several executives jabbering into their cell phones. As the car entered a suspension bridge, shadows sprinkled through the light. It was the only one in Railston, titled after some honorable fellow who had been saddled with the unfortunate name Woodward D. Fluxom—thus the Woodward D. Fluxom Bridge. No one ever called it that. Since Tom moved here, fresh from high school and years of living in a group home, he always heard it called the Flux. Now they were riding over old Flux, and Tom squinted at the sunlight reflecting off the foamy river.
“I think that’s the difference between you and me,” he said, scanning the web of rusty silver bridgework. “You’re looking for the next promotion . . . I’m happy where I am.”
Ross sniffed. “You can’t tell me you wouldn’t enjoy being a full-fledged detective. Besides, I need you. You’re the one who watches my back.”
“I’m not saying I won’t enjoy it.” Tom looked at his partner, a smirk on his lips. “As long as watching your back doesn’t turn into kissing your ass.”
Ross laughed. This was the norm. Tom insulted him for being a prima donna, and Ross turned it into a joke. Ross would come back with some sly comment about how good Tom was at it. Or he would go ahead and promise him, acknowledging his desire to be the star to Tom’s sidekick. But Ross never got to make that promise. Because at that moment, Hell came looking for Thomas Pillar.
Midnight passed in front of the car, so silently and stealthily Tom only vaguely noticed the change. Just another morning shadow, like those coming from the suspension wires. Tom glanced forward, his eyes focused on a black spot in the road ahead, rapidly enlarging. A man in a heavy coat stepped into the street, less than fifty yards away. He lumbered into the traffic lane, using long legs to make slow but deliberate steps. Tom’s eyes veered to Ross, his body bracing for the quick swerve that would happen any second. But to his horror, Ross’s eyes were on his side mirror, a sly grin on his lips, as if checking out the driver behind him. Tom looked forward, hoping the man had already passed their lane. But he hadn’t. Instead, the lanky man had come to a dead stop.
Ross snapped to attention. He saw the man, too, poised like a totem pole against the sunrise. He jerked the wheel, and the whole world jerked with it. Tire screeching ripped through the air like a record’s needle off its track. Colors shot around them like a tornado. They spun through lanes, chopping their way through the dense morning traffic. Other cars honked and swerved, barely missing the BMW. Then the guardrail found them and everything fragmented. A walloping thrust as Tom’s chest fused with the seat belt . . . a deafening bang as the BMW’s hood split open and peeled back . . . a single cry from Ross before the airbags overtook both of them.
And then silence.
In the minutes that came next, Tom noticed one thing. The air seemed thicker. Maybe it was the airbag—the harsh plastic smell his nose was buried in—or the chemical odor of leaking car fluids. It could have been any of those things, but as he slowly lifted his head, he realized it wasn’t. The air felt more than polluted. It felt unnaturally thick, a presence bearing down on him. He inhaled, and the atmosphere tickled his throat. Tiny fingers wriggled toward his lungs. Vibrations slithered over his entire frame, and his heart leapt in his chest. The charge in the air had him scanning beyond the broken windshield, looking for fallen power lines. He saw nothing, which should have made him feel better.
“Ross,” he whispered, his voice dry and cracking. “You okay, Ross?”
Ross didn’t answer. Tom’s fingers quickly located his partner’s arm and then his partner’s wrist. The pulse was good. He was just unconscious. Tom was about to shake him awake, but heard the passenger door open.
“Mister,” a woman said. “Hey, are you all right?”
Her Chevy Suburban was parked a few feet away. Other cars were stopping as well. The whole bridge would be clogged in moments.
“Yeah, I’m all right,” he said, hoping he wasn’t lying. “Can you help me out of here?”
The lady nodded and let him hook an arm around her shoulder. Tom pushed away from the airbag, every muscle in his chest groaning. Sounds came into sharper focus now. The rumble of dozens of engines filtered through the air, joined by a similar rumble coming from the river below. That’s all it is, he told himself. The cars . . . the rushing river . . . they’re making me even more jumpy. Nothing unnatural about that. As his feet hit solid ground, his vision began to spin. He grabbed the roof of the BMW to steady himself.
“What happened?” the lady asked, her hands shaking worse than Tom’s. “I watched you guys veer off the road.”
Tom stood up straight, his spine cracking. “There was a man,” he mumbled. His eyes widened. “That man.”
In the midst of the lines of cars stood the man in the heavy coat—no, not just a heavy coat, a trench coat. His frame shifted back and forth like a pendulum, though his eyes were fixed squarely on Tom. Wispy black hair fluttered around his shoulders. His face was long, and his complexion—dear God, his skin looked gray.
“Don’t worry,” the lady said. “I called the police already. They’ll be here soon. Why don’t you sit down and take it easy until they get here?”
The man’s eyes—bloodshot with clammy white pupils. They drilled deeper into Tom with every passing second, and he had the immediate sense that he wasn’t looking at something human. Those slimy white pupils belonged to a sea monster pulled from the darkest crevices of the ocean.
“Just a second,” Tom said, ignoring the fading dizziness. He stepped into the throng of cars, wishing Ross had shown him the photo the boy emailed to him. He had a terrifying suspicion that the image would match the man in the street. His .38 was still in its holster, but his fingers were around the grip, ready to draw. In all his years on the force, he had never gone for his gun. Yet something about this man’s crazed stare told him he was going to need it this time. The certainty of it chilled his insides.
He got in line with the man and stopped twenty feet away. For a moment, his gaze was pulled from the man’s face to his trench coat. The coat was too long on him, stretching to the ground and hiding the man’s feet. Every button was buttoned, and it looked thick on him, as if the man had several layers of clothes on underneath. Tom thought about pulling his badge, then decided not to. He had the man’s attention already, so Tom spoke.
“Why did you step into the street?”
The man smiled, revealing a set of half-decayed yellow teeth. “Do you know how long I spent preparing the sacrifice?” he said in a gravelly voice. “Three years I prepared the sacrifice! Three years I used the serum. Three years I performed the ceremonies. Yet the master had no use of my sacrifice. The master had already chosen another.”
Tom pulled his badge and held it up. “I said why did you walk into the street?”
The man clicked his teeth, baring purple gums. “So what good am I now? If I cannot provide the vessel of the master, how can I serve him?”
He’s a nut wandering the street. Tom couldn’t buy it, no matter how much he wanted to. This man was calculating. Tom’s fingers tensed around his weapon, but he resisted the impulse. They weren’t alone here. People watched through their car windows. A young family with a baby in a stroller had stopped on the walking path to stare in curiosity. A man driving a fuel truck spoke into his CB, probably giving a scoop to other truckers stuck on the Flux. They were all here, all trapped for the moment on this gleaming steel bridge, and Tom didn’t want to set off a panic. But as he looked into those predatory white pupils, he realized he might not have a say in the matter. This man wanted something, and whatever he did to get it might inevitably lead to panic.
Or he might want nothing, Tom told himself. Because he’s just a wanderer. Just a mental-case wanderer.
“Who is the master?” Tom tried, hoping to take over the conversation.
The man’s eyes blazed. “The master! The eye of the storm. The center around which all darkness orbits. The master is almost here, and when he arrives, he’s going to kick the shit out of this world.” The man cackled. “He’s going to kick the shit out of you too, Officer Pillar.”
The gun came out of its holster, pointed at Mr. Trench Coat in less than a second. In his periphery, he noticed people ducking inside their vehicles, but he couldn’t focus on that yet. “Who are you?” Tom yelled. “How do you know my name? Were you waiting for us to drive by? Who are you?”
The man’s eyes turned skyward. His hands rose in the air, palms up. Tom noticed the inside of his wrists. Black syringe holes dotted pale skin like swarms of gnats. “How can I serve the master now? How can I make my sacrifice worthwhile?”
“Damn it! Who are you?”
“I know!” the man cried. “I can give the sacrifice to my master’s enemy. I can give my sacrifice to the legendary Pillar. My lamb will not be wasted.”
The man’s hands dipped to his chest. “Hold it!” Tom yelled, but the man began unbuttoning his trench coat. Tom stepped forward. He was going to take this bastard down. Sirens clanged in the distance. They would be here in minutes, and they could cuff the madman and take him downtown. Tom only had to hold him until then. Keep him from doing something cra—
The man flipped open the trench coat.
Tom froze. Huddled against the man was a small boy, no more than seven. His back was to Pillar, his arms clinging to the man’s legs like a lifesaver. Large blue eyes squinted at him. Tom wasn’t focused on the boy’s face. His gaze was stuck on the row of sticks duct-taped around the boy’s midsection.
A car honked, making Tom’s heart skip. Cars all around him broke into motion, reversing away from the epicenter of unfolding madness. But they only caused a string of fender benders behind them. It was bumper car havoc, everyone scrambling, but getting nowhere. All three lanes were at a standstill. Most of the drivers weren’t seeing the boy and the lunatic holding them. They were all absorbed in their own little worlds, yelling at the closer drivers who had gone insane. Radios were turned up and cell phones were in use. Even the woman who had helped him from the car was busy inside the BMW, trying to rustle some consciousness out of Ross. But no one was coming to help. For all intents and purposes, Tom was alone.
The man’s grotesque smile quivered. “Go to him, my son. Go to the Guardian.”
The boy trembled, but turned like a trained animal, and moved toward Tom. His heart froze as he saw the boy’s chest. An electronic readout hung over the dynamite. Numbers ticked away on it—00:58, 00:57, 00:56.
“What the hell are you doing?” Tom asked, his voice feeling small.
“He’s yours,” the man offered. “He’s your sacrifice.”
“No, he’s not,” Tom said, pleading. “Come on, turn off the bomb. We don’t have to do this.”
“Oh we do,” the man insisted. “The whole world has to do this.”
00:41, 00:40, 00:39 . . .
Tom lifted his gun. “I said turn it off! Do it now!”
The man cackled again. His arms lifted upward in worship. “Master! Look to me and let my act please you!”
00:32, 00:31 . . .
Tom’s eyes jumped from the rows of log jammed vehicles to the fuel truck four spaces back to the child with his arms outstretched, walking toward him. He had realized a moment ago that he was alone on this one. Now he wished he could be so lucky.
00:25, 00:24 . . .
“You’ve got one more chance!” Tom yelled desperately. “Turn it off!”
The man dropped to his knees, his hands still raised. “Let the Jesottunea begin.”
Tom ran forward, scooping the child up in his arms. He heard a car door nearby open. As he passed the man in the trench coat, he heard a deep, foreign chanting. It barely sounded like a real language.
“Hey, what’s the problem over there?” the woman pushing the stroller said.
Tom ran, weaving through the cars, moving out of the lanes, across the walking path. He reached the railing and glanced down at the readout.
“Close your eyes,” he whispered to the boy. “When you wake up this will all be better.”
Tom lifted the child above his head. God, forgive me. Then he flung the boy, tossing the child with everything he had. Nearby a woman screamed. That scream was quickly matched as the young boy found his voice. The child’s face flashed through the air and then disappeared beyond the railing. The tiny scream pitched downward, toward the sun-drenched river below. Tom stood petrified, listening to the sound fade, waiting to hear the splash or the explosion—whichever came first.
A splash. The terrified cry of a seven-year-old snapped off in an instant.
Thomas Pillar didn’t move. As the seconds went by, he stayed right where he was, the walls of his mind imploding. The timer. It had already run out. It ran out before the boy hit the water. The truth—the truth that punctured his heart—was much simpler. The bomb had never been armed. The timer had only been there to fool him. The boy had fallen needlessly to his death.
A tremor ran through Tom’s soul. He couldn’t move. His feet were dead, his lungs insufficient. His stomach was hollow.
And somewhere behind him a man in a trench coat cackled like a lunatic.