I suppose at this point I was expecting anything to be behind that door. In a way, I just wanted to tell Constantine to go fuck himself and then I would be out of here, gone, maybe even go back to my mother's. I wasn't ready for this. I had never been religious prior to my newest job; but this gave a whole new meaning to the word of God. As the plush purple door opened and Constantine placed his hand on my shoulder to usher me inside before him, I felt my stomach knot up to painful extremeties and I met the man behind the door.
He was a tall black man, built lithe but definitely in top physical condition. He was dressed in a snazzy, pimp tuxedo, in shades of purple and red. He had a long cigar in his fingers, expelling blue smoke and he had the most intense, brightest eyes I had ever seen. "John!" he said, sounding surprised. "What are you doing here so early?" John put his hand on my lower back and pushed me in all the way firmly.
"I've run into a few...problems." He said. I looked around the gothically hip room-- this man lived in style. "One of them including her." Both men looked at me and I stared dumbly at John. What the fuck was he talking about now? "I'll introduce you two. Midnite, this is my new driver, Cheryl Buckman. Cheryl; this is Midnite, the owner of this nightclub and the most feared Witch Doctor of all time." He extended his hand and I took it. It was warm and powerful and he gave my hand a light squeeze, staring me down politely the entire time.
"Nice to meet you, Cheryl. How are you faring against John Wayne these days?" he chuckled and John sneered. Midnite cuffed him lightly on the shoulder and led him towards a circular table near the back of the room. Bottles of ancient wine and brandy circled it, three glasses downturned and waiting to be drank from. "Take a seat, both of you." I sat down beside John, unable to stop myself from giving John some odd sideway glances. Most of them plainly said John-what-the-hell-is-going-on. "Tell me, Constantine," Midnite settled himself down, unscrewing the cap off a bottle of bourbon and pouring a generous amount of liquor into all of their suddenly upturned glasses, "What your unholy problems consist of now?"
"Well, just this afternoon," John lit a cigarette. "I exorcised a rather odd demon out of a little girl. It said somethings that bothered me-- especially since Balthazar is behind most of it. And somehow Cheryl ties into it." John's eyes glowed a little, demanding all the attention in the room. "This demon said that Satan's given Balthazar amazing power; and we already know he was powerful before." He nudged Cheryl. She jumped. "He's already been at her once."
"Cheryl, may I see your elbow?" John stopped talking immediately and both of us just looked at Midnite for a moment.
"Why?" I asked, looking at John for help. He nodded. Shit. "Okay." Feeling nervous, I slid off my jacket and rolled up the sleeve of my shirt, showing the inside of my arm. Midnite took my middle forearm in his hand and looked down at my elbow. In the crease of it was a strawberry red birthmark. It spilled across my arm almost like a string of red paint, or wine, or blood. It was very thin and erratic, but a noticably strange mark. She had always had it. Midnite touched this mark.
"You've had this since birth?" he looked at me in the eye and I lowered my head a little.
"You already know the answer." I replied, seriously. "Right?" Midnite smiled, revealing two golden teeth amongst his canine white ones.
"Yes, ma'am, I do." He looked at John, turning serious. "However, I'm afraid our meeting's going to have to be cut a little short. I've suddenly remembered," he released my arm and stood up. "That I've got a big appointment coming up." he waved his hands, shooing us off.
"I'll see you later tonight, John." Midnite said, in a tone that strictly meant that the case was closed. John's brow darkened considerably and he ashed out his cigarette fiercely, frustrated from the lack of answers. I scurried to put on my jacket, and I shook Midnite's hand one more time before leaving. He insisted. He clasped my one hand with both of his. "Take care, Cheryl."
"You too." I replied, quietly. I followed John out of there in a hurry. The door shut behind me.
After I had dropped John off and returned home from my altogether very tiring day, I dropped onto the couch and listened to the empty house as it listened to my rapid heartbeat. I felt sick. My ribs ached. I craved a cigarette. I got up, turning on the answering machine by the TV and trundled into the kitchen, yawning, letting my hair down. "You have 2 new messages." The robotic voice said. "Message 1." It was my mother.
"Hello, Sarah and Cheryl, if either of you are home, please pick up. I'm just calling for Cheryl to tell her that her father's gone back to the hospital," I lit a cigarette. "Fuck." I said angrily. "But it appears he'll be back out by next Wednesday. Anyways, I was wondering if you were going to be coming up for Easter this year; you two girls were at Bobby Nixon's house last Easter, if I remember correctly..." Mom continued on and I stood at the sink, smoking and pouring myself a glass of sherry. The message ended with a beep, and then the next message came on.
"Good morning, Cheryl. I think you remember me." My blood turned to ice and the glass of sherry nearly slipped out of my hand and I turned sharply, facing the hallway into the living room. The shades hadn't been opened and it was dark in there. My hand slipped into my pocket and pulled out the rosary. Balthazar. The beads gave me comfort. "If John hasn't told you about your newest," A dry, evil chuckle. "'Fan', then it appears I'm going to have to tell you myself, but I'm sure you won't mind. You've been dreaming about me, haven't you--" Cheryl ran into the living room and stared at the answering machine in fear. Her mind swirled. What the hell was he talking about? Her bowels felt loose and her eyes were getting wet. "I suppose you haven't." A soft sigh. "Johnny-boy likes to take his time with things. And most of the time, he comes too late."
There was a small click as the man on the other end hung up.
"End of messages." Another loud, long beep. For one violent moment of impulse, I almost ripped the telephone cord out of the wall. For a second I considered hurling the answering machine right through the window. I stood there, with a glass of sherry and a half smoked cigarette, eyes bulging and throat very dry. I felt sick all over again. Call Constantine. That's what my mind was saying, call Constantine, tell him to get over here and protect me. Oh God, what if that demon freak was inside the house? I picked up the phone in a hurry, dialing *69 and waiting impatiently.
"This previous number cannot be reached with this message. Please hang up and try again--" I slammed the phone down and stared at it for a moment. Then, I picked up the phone again and called John. It rang about four times. I let it ring and ring. Fear had swallowed me. Something unholy was happening, in this house.
On the eighth ring, someone picked up.
After Cheryl had dropped John off, he had lugged himself up the stairs, listening to their clanging echoes in the building. The walls were pockmarked and covered in graffiti, some of it none to gratifying. He walked down the carpeted hall. He may have lived here for bordering on five or six years, and he still never knew how the place, though dilapitated, had somehow still stayed clean, with no rats or overly large spiders festooning the place. He walked into his apartment, opening the windows and standing there for a second, leaning against the door and thinking hard.
What the hell did Cheryl have to do with anything? And what the hell was with Midnite and her birthmark? John had one himself, behind his left knee, a small grape-coloured mark that he barely noticed even existed. You could think that Cheryl's birthmark was only a crease in the inside of her elbow, nothing more, but apparently it was something important. Irritated at being kicked out at the crucial moment, John thundered over to the bathroom and splashed freezing cold water on his face. He stared at himself in the mirror, beads of water dripping off his chin and brow.
A knock came at the door, busting him out of his thoughts. He was trying to remember where he had seen a mark like that before. It hadn't been on Cheryl. It had been somewhere else; something thinner, something like a-- the knocking persisted and John let out a low groan of irritation. Angered, he stormed back to the door and ripped it open, a what-the-hell-do-you-want just waiting to spring off his tongue. Instead, his mouth just hung open and he felt like a fool.
The dark-haired woman smiled a little shyly, looking up at John.
"Hi, John. How are you?"
"Angela, what are you doing here?" he asked instead, pulling her inside. She certainly looked better then ever, in a black pencil skirt and a smart red blouse. He shut the door and faced her. Although he didn't show it upon his face, he was deeply pleased to see her.
"Well, I just got back from Manhattan, and I figured I would come see you." she herself sounded surprised to even be here.
"You should have called." He replied thickly. She shrugged. Her jacket was over one arm and she shrugged it from arm to arm, obviously becoming uncomfortable.
"Are you busy? I'll leave, if you want--"
"No, don't leave. You can stay. For a while." he smiled.
And maybe it was just coincidence, or maybe it was fate, but he kissed her with that smile.
Then the phone started to ring.