Chapter Twenty-One: The Red Snake

“I can see the wheels in your head turning,” said Carmine. “There is something you’re not telling me.”

Rona shook her head. She didn’t want Carmine to know what she was really thinking. Virgil was her priority but here it seemed that the entire city might be in danger. Her first thought was that she would need to take Virgil as far away from Denver as she possibly could. But then she remembered what Carmine had just said, once The Eyes have seen you, they can always find you. There may be no safe distance from them. Especially if she allowed Pitroth to carry out his plan and enthrall the entire city. Then he would have thousands—millions—of minions and he would track her and Virgil down. She had to figure out a way to stop him here and now. Goliath wasn’t going to make that easy. There was one question that she was still pondering though: where did Virgil fit into all of this? That was a question she dared not to ask Carmine. It was best if he didn’t know who Virgil was or the details of her mission. When the time came for him to ask her questions, she was sure she could skate around them with relative ease.

“You know me, no thoughts in this head,” said Rona, knocking the side of her head with her knuckle as if it were a door. Carmine gave her a blank look, which Rona knew meant that the wheels in his head were turning at the moment. Rona didn’t like that one bit.

“How do you know so much about demons?” Virgil asked Carmine. Rona shot Virgil a look over her shoulder but he didn’t see it.

Carmine leaned back in the sofa with a grin of intrigue on his face. The two women adjacent to him leaned in and rested their heads on his shoulders and stroked his chest sensually. “Did Rona not tell you who I am? Let’s just say, that I have insider knowledge.”

“You mean…you’re a…demon…”

“Whatever gave you that impression?” said Carmine. At those words, Virgil thought he saw another face overtake Carmine’s.  Something with a sunk-in face; rough red skin; and piercing, yellow eyes. Virgil could have sworn it hissed at him. He jumped back, gasping loudly, before covering his mouth to prevent further sound from escaping. But in an instant it was gone. And there sat Carmine, grinning at him with the same intrigue as before. Virgil’s heart pounded in his chest. How could any of this be happening, he thought.

“We’re done here,” said Rona, stepping between Virgil and Carmine.

“Leaving so soon?” asked Carmine. One of the women walked over to Carmine with a tray. She leaned the tray down enough for Carmine to lift a freshly rolled joint from it and test the quality of the roll with his fingertips. He looked over at Virgil. “Do you partake?”

“Um, I probably shouldn’t,” said Virgil.

“We’re leaving,” said Rona.

“Nonsense,” said Carmine. “You have forgotten that you still owe me some answers.”

“Go ahead and ask your questions,” said Rona, folding her arms across her chest. “Make it quick.”

Carmine chuckled. “Oh, I never rush to finish quickly,” he said, as he began running the tip of his index finger down the neck of the woman sitting next to him. She moaned with pleasure, arching her back and moving her hips rhythmically, as Carmine’s finger made its way down her neck. “Some things should be taken slowly,” he said as his finger ran down the woman’s chest. “In order to extend the pleasure.” The finger came to rest inside of the woman’s cleavage causing her to convulse. “And gleam every…ounce…of gratification…there is to be extracted.”

The woman let out a long and gentle sigh of satisfaction.

Rona rolled her eyes.

“Ask your damn questions so that we can get outta’ here.”

“I wish to change the deal,” said Carmine. “I will forgo asking you any questions and allow you to leave, so long as your young friend agrees to stay for a little while.”

“No deal,” said Rona in a stern tone.

“Uh, yeah, she’s my ride,” said Virgil.

“If it’s a ride that you seek,” said Carmine lighting the joint and taking a puff. He blew smoke into the air, in the shape of an octagon. “That can be provided. Bianca, why don’t you take our new friend and show him around a little bit. Nothing is off limits.”

“With pleasure,” said Bianca, her voice a low and sultry, with an accent that Virgil couldn’t place. Like a tower, she had been standing behind Carmine, occasionally running her fingers through his locks as he had been speaking. As she moved from behind the sofa, and in Virgil’s direction, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Bianca’s leggy form. Stepping one foot in front of the other, and accentuating the movement of her hips, she lifted her thick, jet-black hair with both hands before letting it fall to one side. She preened the length of it with one, perfectly tanned hand while beckoning Virgil with the other. Virgil leaned forward involuntarily, but Rona halted his movement by placing her arm across his chest, herself eying Bianca—but for entirely different reasons.

“Why don’t you come with me, handsome?” purred Bianca reaching her hand out to Virgil once she was within reach. As if in a trance, Virgil slowly raised his arm towards Bianca.

“Don’t touch him,” said Rona.

“I thought you were leaving,” said Bianca, dismissively.

“That’s the only warning you’re gonna’ get, Homegirl,” said Rona.

“Have a pleasant evening,” said Bianca, smiling at Rona. She reached out to take Virgil by the hand.

Rona snatched Bianca’s arm away from Virgil and twisted it at an awkward angle. In the same motion, she drove Bianca’s arm into her gut, while simultaneously lifting her from the floor and flinging her down hard. Bianca crashed into the glass coffee table in front of Carmine, shattering it. She recovered with animalistic speed, perching on all fours as if preparing to pounce. She roared like a jungle cat. The sound snapped Virgil from whatever trance he had been in and he ducked behind Rona. Rona turned her body slightly to the side and clenched her fists.

“Bianca!” snapped Carmine. “They are our honored guests.”

“Yes, Mr. Adder. Excuse my rudeness,” said Bianca, rising to her feet. She adjusted the straps of her lingerie, resetting her breasts properly. She gave Rona a humble curtsey and a smile. A smile that did not hide the hatred in her eyes.

“Some other time,” said Bianca.

“Anytime,” said Rona.

Virgil wasn’t sure whether he was terrified or aroused by Bianca—or both at the same time.

“You should take sexiness lessons from her,” whispered Virgil in Rona’s ear. She responded with a light elbow to the arm.

“No need for apologies, Bianca. I didn’t know that Rona would be so protective of this young man,” said Carmine, pressing his palms together in front of his face and smiling. “Interesting.”

Crap, thought Rona.

“Very interesting!” said Carmine with a laugh. “Very well then. Let us continue this conversation in my office, Rona and—I didn’t catch your name…”

“Virgil,” said Virgil, answering almost by reflex. Rona elbowed him again.

This time, not as lightly.

“Very well, Mr. Virgil—Rona—one moment, please,” said Carmine.

Carmine excused himself and returned momentarily clad in an expensive-looking, violet business suit. He then led Rona and Virgil to a wall on the other side of the room. He spoke a word in a language that Virgil had never heard before and the wall opened up into a dark corridor. As they walked through the hallway, torches lit automatically providing just enough light for them to see in front of them until the next torch lit their way. The torches went out automatically once they passed by, leaving the path behind them in darkness.

The sound of techno music grew louder as they moved through the passageway. They emerged into the dance hall and found themselves on a platform suspended high above the crowd of dancing people. Carmine greeted a security guard with a nod, as he opened a door to a glass elevator, long enough for the three of them to board. He shut the door and pulled a lever. The elevator lifted in a smooth, slow motion. Rona peered through the glass at the dancing people below. She caught sight of a couple of topless female dancers on the stage. She shielded Virgil’s eyes with her palm, but he ducked his head out of the way and kept his gaze on the dancers.

“You are not his mother,” said Carmine. He turned to Virgil and smiled. “He is not a child.”

“Exactly,” said Virgil.

Rona folded her arms across her chest and made an impatient noise.

The elevator rose into another corridor, this one dimly lit by a red lamp. It was empty and free from the noise below. At the end of the corridor stood a single door. It slid open, revealing an office. Carmine walked around to the other side of a long desk and sat down in a swivel chair. He beckoned for Rona and Virgil to have a seat in one of the chairs facing the desk. Virgil plopped down in one. Rona stood akimbo. Noticing that Rona hadn’t moved, Virgil rose to stand by her side. Carmine smiled with delight. Rona stared at him with a blank expression.

“Can I interest you in something to drink?” asked Carmine.

“No,” said Rona. “One question down.”

Carmine laughed. “Any further questions you may have from this point forward I shall answer, free of charge.” Rona arched an eyebrow. “No need for skepticism. I find myself with a vested interest in helping you.” Carmine leaned back in his chair, putting his feet up on the desk, interlocking his palms and resting his hands in his lap.

“What could that be?” asked Rona.

“Well, should The Infernal succeed in enthralling the entire city, then it could threaten my clientele. I’ve already filed Chapter Eleven twice, and I’m not aiming for the trifecta. If answers could give you a weapon in your fight with Pitroth, then it behooves me to provide them.”

“I never said that I was going to try and stop Pitroth,” said Rona.

“You don’t have to, Rona. I’ve known you a very very long time. I can tell what you are thinking just by looking at you,” said Carmine.

“What am I thinking right now?”

“About beating me into a pulp.”

“Lucky guess.”

“You will find that beating me this time will not be so easy as it was last time,” said Carmine. For the first time since their arrival, his voice was low and dangerous again.

“I’m game to put that to the test whenever you are,” said Rona, matching Carmine’s tone.

“I have no doubt that you would,” said Carmine, returning to his calmer and light demeanor. He turned to Virgil. “Don’t be fooled by the attractive vessel that was created for her. She is no less brutish a thug than a common street criminal.” He turned back to Rona. “I am, however, in no mood to oblige you. An altercation with you would lead to sweating, and possible bruising.” He checked himself out in a mirror on the wall to his right. He smiled, apparently impressed with what he saw. “And I’m having a good-face-day, today.”

Virgil and Rona exchanged looks.

Carmine sat in patient silence as Rona formed her thoughts.

“Pitroth summoned something from the underworld,” said Rona.

A brief look of surprise showed on Carmine’s features, but disappeared in a flash.

“I was just as surprised as you are. I didn’t know that I was up against a demon with the power to summon things. He called forth Goliath,” said Rona.

“The Philistine giant,” said Carmine. “If he was summoned from his prison in Hell than you’re dealing with a demon version of the warrior. No doubt a formidable adversary.”

“I dropped him off of a ten story building and he got up and smiled at me—so yeah, I’d say.”

“I was unaware that Pitroth was a summoner,” said Carmine, leaning forward, and resting his chin on interlocked fingers.

“You know him?”

“I’ve heard of him.”

“A summoner is someone who can call things from Hell?” asked Virgil.

Carmine nodded, but still looked deep in thought.

“Sounds bad,” said Virgil.

“Conjurors are worse,” said Rona.

Carmine chortled in agreement. “Have you tried a sling and a stone?”

“I bashed him in the head with the biggest rock I could find. I doubt David could even have lifted it,” said Rona.

“Nothing?”

“Well, he did say ‘ouch,’” said Rona.

“Hmmm. That should have worked. Some demons and ghosts must be vanquished in death in the same manner in which they had been in life. I guess you’ll have to figure out how David really beat Goliath,” said Carmine.

“That was it, right? He just used a sling and a stone to hit him in the forehead,” said Virgil.

“Where did you get that information?” asked Carmine.

“The Bible,” said Virgil with a shrug.

“Mmmmm,” said Carmine.

“I mean, everybody knows that story. Goliath was a giant, and David was a small kid. The two of them fought and David won. That’s it, right?” said Virgil.

“David was no kid. He was six-feet-four and the most feared man in Jerusalem,” said Carmine. “Often, legends are told generations later in order to make a hero’s victory seem more epic than it actually was. Usually the details of what really happened are far cruder.”

“What could be cruder than hitting him in the head with a rock?” asked Rona.

“I don’t know,” said Carmine. “Perhaps a special stone is required. Or one that has been blessed by a priest or something.”

“I’ll figure something out,” said Rona with a sigh.

Carmine rested his elbows on the desk and stared at Rona intently. “When you fought Goliath, did he hurt you?”

“Yes,” said Rona.

Carmine smiled with delight. “Did you cry out when he hit you?”

“I did,” said Rona, folding her arms over her chest and glaring at Carmine. “These count as questions.”

“Oh, I know,” said Carmine. “And I’m loving the answers. Now tell me, what did he do to you in order to inflict pain?”

Rona sighed loudly. “He punched me in the face; he kicked me in the stomach; He threw me around; he tried to drown me in a lake; he pulled my hair; he hit me with a pipe; and I’m pretty sure he head-butt me once.”

“Ooooo!” said Carmine, clapping his hands with glee. “Was it one of the most humiliating beatings that you’ve ever suffered?”

Rona nodded, anger fixed on her face.

“I can’t hear you.”

“Yes!”

“I wish I had been there to see it,” said Carmine, dreamily.

“Finish asking your questions so that we can get the hell outta’ here,” said Rona, fury in her voice.

“I wish to change the deal, once more,” said Carmine. “I will trade the rest of my questions for you in order to ask Virgil two questions.”

“No deal,” said Rona.

“As you wish,” said Carmine. “Since there was no agreement that I must ask my questions in a timely manner, the two of you will stay here until I decide on a time to make my inquiries. Be prepared to stay a while.”

“Do you have a futon?” asked Rona.

“I accept,” said Virgil.

Rona shot him a horrified look. “Are you insane?”

“I have school tomorrow,” said Virgil. “I can’t stay here all night.”

“Wonderful!” said Carmine. “First question: what is your full name?”

“Virgil Cornelius McFeeney,” said Virgil, the words pulled from him as if by a rope. An action so involuntary that he was surprised by his own voice.

Rona buried her face in her palm.

“Delightful!” said Carmine. “Now, second question: who did Rona tell you she was?”

Virgil felt the words yanked from him once again. “She told me that she is a guardian angel from Heaven sent here to protect me from demons that want to kill me.” Virgil spat the words so quickly that he needed a moment to catch his breath.

Rona stared at Carmine, seething.

“Interesting,” said Carmine, looking back and forth between Rona and Virgil. “I take it she left out the parts about being kicked out of Heaven nine-hundred and ninety-eight years ago?”

Virgil’s mouth dropped open and he shot Rona a look. Rona didn’t take her eyes off of Carmine. Carmine matched the intensity of Rona’s glare as he continued.

“Oh yes indeed. Rona was ousted from heaven centuries ago after committing an unspeakable act. Did she tell you what happened to her last charge?”

Shut your mouth!” said Rona through clenched teeth.

“Let’s just say, that things didn’t turn out well for him, now did they?” said Carmine. “Nor have they turned out well for anyone who has gotten to know Rona too well. She’s no guardian! She leaves a path of destruction wherever she goes! If you value your life, kid, then I suggest you get as far away from her as you can!”

“Shut up!” shouted Rona, slamming both fists on the top of the desk. The impact crushed the top of it and exploded the legs to splinters.

Carmine didn’t flinch.

He just smiled up at Rona.

Virgil jumped in front of Rona, facing her with both of his hands outstretched. “Let’s go, Rona,” he said, in a panicked voice.

“Listen to your young friend before you do something you will surely regret,” said Carmine.

Virgil could see the rage on Rona’s face. He placed his hands on her shoulders and her eyes met his.

“Let’s go,” he said in the calmest voice he could muster. He gently pushed Rona backwards. She yielded to the pressure, walking backwards, never taking her eyes off of Carmine.

“If they have chosen her to be your protector it is merely a sign of desperation on the part of the Powers That Be. Heed my warning, Virgil Cornelius McFeeney,” said Carmine.

Rona ushered Virgil out of the door ahead of her before turning to face Carmine. “One of these days, Belfagor, I am going to kill you.”

“By that time, I’ll have already won,” said Carmine, confidently. “But I would be more concerned with Goliath if I were you. It looks like he is going to be the one to kill you.”

Rona left the room and the door closed itself behind her.

“That was a close one, boss,” said Naku, emerging from a small door in the far corner of the room. He climbed up onto the broken desk and stared up at Carmine. “Do we have to leave town, now that Rona knows we’re here?”

“No. She has her own problems. It seems we’ve been a bit out of the loop. Something big is happening and we must prepare ourselves,” said Carmine.

Naku looked up at Carmine with a leer of excitement. “Do you really think that Goliath can kill Rona?”

Carmine threw his head back and laughed.

“If I truly thought he could, I most certainly would not have told her.”

 

Virgil took off running from the club as soon as he was outside. Rona caught up to him in just a few strides. She leaped over his head and landed in front of him. She grabbed him around the shoulders.

“What were you thinking in there?” said Rona. “I told you not to speak, and there you go making a deal with a demon? Do you know what a demon can do with your full name?”

Virgil tore himself away from Rona. “He was going to keep us there forever. I had to do something!”

“I know how to get under Belfagor’s skin,” said Rona. “In a couple of hours I would’ve had him begging us to leave. I had a plan!”

“Oh really?” said Virgil in a sarcastic tone. “It didn’t look like you had a plan when you started smashing things and almost getting us both killed! Why are you really mad, Rona? Is it because Carmine told me the truth about you?”

“Belfagor is a demon. He lies,” said Rona.

“No! You Lie!” said Virgil.

Rona looked down at the ground.

“I can’t believe that they sent a fallen angel to protect me. I’m going to die,” said Virgil.

“I’m not going to let anything happen to you,” said Rona.

“I don’t believe you! I don’t believe anything you say,” said Virgil. “I want a new guardian angel. A better one. One that is actually from Heaven.” He looked up at the sky. “Send me a new guardian angel! One that knows better than to take me to a demon infested techno club!”

“Now, hold on a second there, Teenface!” said Rona. “You wanted to come. I told you it would be dangerous, but you said you would feel safer being with me. I tried to treat you like an adult and let you make your own decisions to some extent. I could always lock you in your room where it’s safe, but I chose to let you tag along. I knew nothing was going to happen. I would never put you directly in harm’s way! I told you to keep your mouth shut! I tried to explain the dangers to you. If only you would listen to me and do what I tell you to do then things would be soooo much easier, but noooo!”

“Can’t you see, I’m not safe anywhere?” said Virgil, running his hands down the length of his face. “These demons want me dead and there is nothing I can do about it. I’m not super-strong. I’m not super-fast. I can’t deal with this. I’m just a normal kid. I can’t handle all of these angels and demons and guns and foxes that turn into dragons—and shit! I don’t want this! I didn’t ask for this! I want my life back!”

“This is your life now!” said Rona. “I know you didn’t choose it, but it chose you, and there’s nothing you—or I—can do about that. So get used to it! Why you? I don’t know. Trust me, I have no freaking clue why anyone in their right mind would choose you.”

“What did they tell you? If you protect me they’ll let you back into Heaven? Is that it?”

Rona folded her arms across her chest and looked away.

“Oh fantastic! You don’t care about me. I’m just a mission. You just want to get back into Heaven.”

“Yup. And I’ll tell you what: this mission isn’t worth it! I’ll gladly quit and have another guardian sent to protect you.”

“Please do!” said Virgil, belligerently.

“Fine, then I will!” said Rona. “I’ll get right on that! It may take a while for another guardian to get here, so until then we’re stuck with each other. I don’t like you. And I’m getting the impression that you don’t like me–”

“Really, Sherlock?”

“Let’s just tolerate one another for the time being. Deal?”

“Whatever.”

“Good. Come on, Weiner-boy, let’s go home.”

 

“Fi-Fye-Fo-Fum!” said Ward, gazing over his shoulder at the towering figure of Goliath standing behind him. “Does that mean anything to you?”

Goliath looked down at Ward but said nothing.

“Oh come on, I know you smell the blood of an Englishman—I’m standing right here! And if you guys would let me take a shower once in a while, you wouldn’t have to smell the funk of an Englishman as well,” said Ward, attempting to raise his arms high enough to sniff his own armpits, but the shackles prevented him from doing so.

It was shortly before sunrise as Ward stood watching the Infernal digging at the dirt rigorously with shovels. Pitroth and two other Infernal also stood waiting patiently for the excavation to be complete.

“Dig, me’ hearties! Dig!” said Ward, with a cheeky grin. He looked up at Goliath, then over at Pitroth and the other Infernal.

No one seemed amused.

“Fi-Fye-Fo-Fum! Come on, just say it for me once!”

“If you continue to make the mistake of thinking that I am here to amuse you then it will be I that takes you and uses you for my own amusement,” said Goliath as he leered down at Ward.

The blood rushed from Ward’s face. “I’m going to shut my mouth now.”

“A wise decision.”

“How is it you speak English, anyway?” asked Ward.

Clank!

“We found something, my Lord,” said one of the Infernal. Pitroth nodded for them to retrieve it. One of the Infernal kneeled down in the hole, moving dirt this way and that until he uncovered it. He yanked a small metal box from the ground and handed it to another Infernal, who in turn presented it to Pitroth.

“Open it,” said Pitroth.

The Infernal obliged, opening the box to reveal a ruby-red stone about the size of a human fist. The stone cast a red light in a three-foot radius, shining a light on the eyes underneath Pitroth’s hood. He beamed down at the Blood Gage lustily. Then he cackled towards the sky.

He motioned for the Infernal to cover the box back up. Ward swallowed hard as Pitroth walked over to him.

“You said you were going to let me go once I gave it to you,” said Ward.

“No, I said I would let you go once you’ve served your purpose,” said Pitroth. “But I’ve only just begun to use you.”

Pitroth nodded towards Goliath.

Ward saw only black as Goliath’s massive hand enclosed around his face.

 

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