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Brimstone and Bowlers | The Nation

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Brimstone and Bowlers

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In the anteroom to Hell or Oblivion or whatever it was beyond the rust-colored door set in the far wall was quiet, with an unseen clock ticking somewhere the only ambient sound. Among the waiting, Dieter Countryman and Mace Gilmore sat next to each other on a plush couch. The roasted flesh hanging from Countryman's face and arms was crispy like fried chicken, though he felt no pain or discomfort. Strangely, he was at peace, despite an uncertain fate. The room had a breezy mid-seventies look to it, with blond ash paneling, mahogany coffee tables, Italian-style lounge chairs and avocado-green file cabinets.

About the Author

Gary Phillips
Gary Phillips's short stories have appeared, most recently, in Los Angeles Noir (Akashic) and in Full House (G.P....

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In this last episode we mostly wrap things up, but leave a few strange matters for earthly or cosmic interpretation.

Breakfast turns violent, more is revealed, and while a decent president gets elected, there's no rest for Congresswoman Kang.

"Sure sorry about what happened to you, Countryman," Gilmore said, putting aside the New York Times crossword puzzle. "But it seems we were both played, as the young folks say, by Cenine."

"Doesn't matter now," the career soldier answered.

"In the big scheme of things, it does," Gilmore observed.

"Well then, just for my own edification," Countryman asked, "what is the name of the tall one, the bastard who smoked me?"

"Oates. And his partner, the short one, is Satterfield. But as I said, it seems these two have not been operating from my playbook for a while."

"Hmmm." Countryman also wondered if he was going to run into that nutboy Riggs, on the other side of that door. Additionally, he wondered if there was a hierarchy of evilness in Hell. If so, Riggs would probably be a junior demon in training, learning how best to lash your bare back and how deep to prick your butt again and again with the pitchfork. But who was he trying to fool? What good had he done in his life? Somewhere along the line it had been for duty and honor and country... but that was eons ago.

"So what was the big picture?" Countryman asked. "I mean, for me and Cenine, when I was stupid enough to believe there was a me and Cenine, it was about cheating you out of your money."

Gilmore said without a trace of rancor, "Sex and money, always a winning combination."

Countryman waited. He had all eternity.

"Because of my degenerative disease..." Gilmore began, "I sought alternative treatments for my condition. Not so much that I really believed I could reverse the effects as I was convinced by the traditional experts that their methods were hopeless."

The billionaire paused as the rust-colored door opened and in stepped a bright-looking individual in an old-fashioned gray tweed suit. He had a large, drooping mustache and wore a black bowler, which he removed as he scanned the room.

"Who is that?" Gilmore whispered to Countryman.

"Don't know. But there's something about him," Countryman answered, "and it's not comforting."

"You, ma'am," the newcomer pointed his bowler toward a woman, in a plain dress and with combed-back hair, sitting near a floor lamp.

She stood and walking toward him energetically said, "Mr. Mudgett, isn't it?"

"Indeed," he said, bowing slightly.

She clapped her hands together, like a child surprised by a birthday present. "Oh, that's wonderful. I've made a study of past serial killers. I'm sure you have so much to teach me. I only killed my family and a girlfriend. You've killed scores."

Countryman and Gilmore exchanged a look.

"This way, my dear, this way." He plopped his hat back on his head and opened the rust-colored door wider. From their angle, neither Countryman not Gilmore could see what was beyond. The woman giggled as she stepped into the opening with the disturbing man, and the portal hissed closed.

After a beat Countryman said, "So since we can't do anything about when that door opens again, what exactly was your plan involving Kang? Getting your tell-all book completed and out was part of it, yeah?"

Gilmore made a small gesture with his hands. "Even when my prognosis was irrevocable, I continued to pursue alternate medicines and paths. This so as to extend my time so that the book could be completed and therefore be the linchpin in the cosmic design."

"Being?"

Defensively, he replied, "Cenine must have told you."

One of Countryman's shoulders lifted briefly. "She was pretty dismissive. She said you'd gone off the deep end, due to your self-prescribed treatments."

"Very diplomatic of you, Dieter."

"We're in this together now."

"So we are." Gilmore gathered himself and told Countryman how he'd had a vision after taking a tab of acid.

"What did taking that hippie shit have to do with your condition? How could that prolong anything?"

"As my body failed me, I knew I had to go deeper into my mind," Gilmore said. "And as I did, much was revealed to me. About how to get this country back on track."

Countryman laughed hollowly. "And this socialist switch-hitter is the one?"

Gilmore touched the other man's arm. "The conduit."

"To what?"

A shit-eating grin glazed the billionaire's face.

Back in the world, Oates, nicknamed Jeff, was having breakfast at a diner in Norco with Mutt, real name Satterfield. Mutt's face was lumpy and crossed with several cuts, and his chest hurt when he breathed, so it hurt all the time. Jeff snickered again.

"Those lesbians come pretty rough these days," Jeff noted. Mutt lost a close-quarters fight with LAPD Detective Desdemona Valdez, Cynthia Kang's lover. The tall man slurped coffee and chewed on more of his pancakes. They'd chosen a booth that afforded a view of the front door and the fry cooks. Jeff had been attacked once by a crazed fry cook wielding a spatula and a steak knife. Grease. Grease messed with your brain.

"Fuck you," Mutt muttered, letting his eyes flick momentarily about the restaurant. "I'll take care of that dyke after we get right with the widow."

A bemused look descended on Jeff, but he eschewed a comment and had more of his food. The bells over the front door jingled and he looked up as Cenine Gilmore and Cyrus Kang walked in, backlit against the morning sun.

Jeff didn't need to signal Mutt, as each man was in sync with the other. He knew without seeing that Mutt had slipped the knife loose from its sheath around his lower leg and was ready to strike, as the other two took a seat across from the killers.

To Be Continued....

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