Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Acquainted With The Night Chapter Seven

(and other abrasions)
Acquainted With The Night
Al Bruno III

Chapter Seven

Kliftin Hill

The snow had begun to stick, it hung from the tree branches and dusted the sidewalks. Brother Scamander' seventeen living children scampered about in the thickening downfall, shoving, screaming, singing and pitching snowballs at the single dirty swan that had made the courtyard's deep pond its home.

A squat Victorian manor overlooked the courtyard, lights burning in every window. From his room on the second floor Dr. Flesh watched them play as he spit polished the blood from his boots. The scene filled him with visions of his son, did he ever play in the snow like this?

He pulled the towel from his shoulders and ran it once more through his damp hair. The shower had rinsed away the blood and grime, and refreshed his resolve.

There was a knock at the door, he pitched the towel back into the bathroom. “Come in.”

Brother Scamander poked his head in the room, “You didn't even ask who it was.”

“It's your house.”

“Very true.” He joined Dr. Flesh at the window.

“I can relax now, there's already been an attempt on my life.”

“No!” Scamander's eyes widened, he looked his friend over from head to toe as if he expected to find a dagger protruding from his back, “I told you not to be staying in some damned motel.”

“Believe me, it was nothing.” Dr. Flesh chuckled.

“What happened?”

“I killed one and let the other go.”

“Why did you ever do such a foolish thing?”

“Because, now she'll never come after me again and she'll tell every other thug in the city they'd be crazy to take a shot at me.”

Brother Scamander shook his head and rolled his eyes, “Such a life you lead! I need a drink just to think about it.”

“I'll have a brandy.” Dr. Flesh watched him open the liquor cabinet and sift around inside.

“How do the clothes fit?”

He patted the brown breeches and gold tunic, “They fit perfectly. It's hard to believe you were ever my size.” There were three pills left in his pocket, Dr. Flesh fingered them idly.

“For that, I should make you get your own brandy.” Scamander said pouring a generous amount of cognac into a snifter, “You should come over more often, I cannot remember when I have seen Delilah prepare such a meal.”

Dr. Flesh took his glass and sat down, “What time is dinner?”

Scamander pulled another chair up to the window and drank from the bottle of bourbon. “Seven o'clock. We have half an hour almost. Tell me, when was the last time you spoke to Rachel?”

“I don’t bother her. She’s got her own life now.” Dr. Flesh emptied his glass, “Last I heard she hooked up with some guy named Saint Louis. You heard of him?”

“They say his is very tall.”

“She doesn’t need to hear from me.” Dr. Flesh got up and poured himself another drink, “I stopped by Pexley's Emporium today.”

“You don't say.” Scamander took a cautious moment to consider his words, “And how is Pexley?”

“He hates me.”

“I'm sorry.”

Dr. Flesh shrugged.

“Was he any help?”

“Not a damned bit.”

“What now?”

“I have no idea my friend, especially since Morgan knows I'm here.” Outside all the children but one had begun to collaborate on a snowman of grotesque proportions; the swan watched them cautiously.

“Little Horace never wants to play with the others.” Scamander said with a note of sadness.


“Pah!” He waved a hand and drank deeply, “A summer ago, at Mimir's Fountain, he was looking to see if he could see the bones of his brothers and sisters. He fell in, he almost drowned. Ironic in a way.”

Dr. Flesh shifted his gaze from his friend's pained expression to the trio of coelacanths swimming mindlessly about in an oversized fishtank.

“His older brother Brian pulled him free and pumped the breath back into his lungs, but I tell you for a few minutes Horace was dead.”

Dr. Flesh emptied is snifter, “Was there... damage?”

“No. But he thinks he is a still dead, some kind of a ghost. I say to him, Horace you eat, you sleep, you breathe! How is it you can be dead? But he just sits and almost never speaks.”

“I'm sorry Scamander.”

He shrugged “What can you do? The tide ebbs, the tide flows.”

“Is there any way I can help?”

“If you could I would have asked long ago.”

“I hope Father Muñoz wasn't any inconvenience.”

“He is welcome in my home.” The grin returned to Scamander's wide face, “Besides I am curious to hear how his church fares with the millennium so close.”

“Sixteen years is close?”

“Close enough.”

“Well, all I know is that there better be an apocalypse or a lot of people are gonna be pissed.”

After they shared a brief chuckle, Brother Scamander became serious once more, “Speaking of things apocalyptic.”

“Oh boy, this should be good.”

In the courtyard the snowman was already half completed, the children were diligently crafting a head from snow and stones. Horace sat off to one side, indifferently stroking the dirty swan as it nuzzled at is armpit.

“Some say if there is a riot the Monarchs are going to will raze the City.”

“Scamander…” Dr. Flesh said, his expression pained.

“Some say that the innocent will be punished with the guilty.”

Dr.Flesh placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, “I don’t have anything to do with the Monarchs anymore. They chose Kriely I chose the road.”

Outside one of the girls spied her father and abandoned her work to wave and blow kisses. Scamander patted Dr. Flesh' hand, “I just worry.”

“And no matter what happens, I'll make sure my adopted nieces and nephews are safe.”

“You are a good friend.”

“Come on. Lets go check on dinner.” Dr. Flesh said, “Besides I can only take so much of this male bonding crap.”

- - -

The dining room had a cathedral like quality to it, with high ceilings and a length of almost ten yards. A huge crystal chandelier was suspended over a table big enough to accommodate sixty. Brother Scamander sat at the head of the table, Father Muñoz to his left and Dr. Flesh to his right. Brother Scamander' wives were next, seated in order of seniority, their seventeen children spread between them. Conversations rippled along the table, each participant altering the subject to his or her whims. Every pause or lull in the chatter was bridged by the cacophony of clicking forks and passing plates.

“What I am saying is that yours is the only faith that believes the Earth will not be flooded again.” Brother Scamander explained between mouthfuls of Veal Alicandro.

Father Muñoz picked at his Steak au Poivre, “Well, that's what the rainbow is all about, it’s a sign of the Lord's promise that he will never again flood the world.”

“Ah, but isn't that the old covenant? Couldn't the new covenant sealed with his son's blood be a different matter entirely?”

Further down the table a toddler erupted into a fit of coughing; his mother began to scold him almost immediately for not covering his mouth. Dr. Flesh watched Father Muñoz squirm at Scamander's latest riposte.

“It's different but the same.” He said finally.

Scamander reached for his wine glass, “How?”

“It just is.”

“That's not proof!”

“When you have faith you don't need proof! That's why it's called faith.” The priest's face twisted into a scowl.

“You can have your faith.” Brother Scamander helped himself to extra servings on all fronts as he spoke, “But I know the flood waters will come again and when they do my flock will be prepared.”

“You're a fool if you think the world will end by water.” Father Muñoz pointed a bandaged finger at his host, “Look around you! The last days will be ushered in by a series of man made nuclear blasts that will lay even the mighty oceans to waste. Those who survive will be decimated by the ensuing nuclear winter. The Earth will be the coldest it ever was, colder than space.”

Conversation at the table lulled as all eyes turned to the bickering holy men. Dr. Flesh looked from Father Muñoz's angry eyes to Scamander's shocked expression and decided it was time to change the subject before there was bloodshed. “Father, is there something the matter? You've hardly touched your steak.”

Both men looked away from each other, the tension broken, “It's not how I like it.”

“I see. By the way, did you ever report the assault?”

“Oh yes, I did. Thank you.”

“You know, I think I came across more of your attacker's handiwork.”

The side conversations resumed, the wives gossiping, the children bickering. “You don't say?”

“Yes, a friend of mine showed me a cadaver that had died of strangulation, but it seems the attacker's touch left the skin of the throat practically frozen solid.”

Scamander grimaced, “It sounds like one of the madmen infected with the faith of Bodge Loyar.”

“What?” Father Muñoz said, “What makes you say that?”

“Bodge Loyar is a lost god from a broken faith.” Brother Scamander explained, “Only the mad and the inbred worship him. They see their god as a Harlequin locked in a Prison of ice. Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Dr. Flesh asked, “How do you know one of them killed that man I was telling you about?”

“They take their god into them, a kind of communion if you will pardon me Father.” Scamander nodded to the frowning priest, “Only to find he is cold and hungry. He makes their touch like the wind atop mount Kadiphonek and he makes them hungry for souls. If they do not feed they freeze solid from the inside out.”

“You don't say?” Father Muñoz turned his attention back to his meal.

“He was one of your flock you know.” Dr. Flesh said.


“The dead man.”

“What makes you say that?” Father Muñoz asked.

“He was found clutching a medal of St. Francis”

“How interesting. I must inquire if he needs last rites or anything.”

“I think it may be too late for that.”

One of Brother Scamander's wives excused herself, when she stood it was obvious she was in the final stages of pregnancy.

“I wouldn't worry about it Father, the Constables will find the person responsible.” Dr. Flesh said.

“Have you had any more encounters with the cats?” Brother Scamander asked.

“Actually I have.” Dr. Flesh replied, “last night the orange tomcat was scratching at my window.”


“Yes, I think he was trying to warn me of an assassination attempt.”

Father Muñoz cracked a sardonic smile, “I've heard of guard dogs, but guard cats?”

“The cats are very wise.” One of Scamander's oldest, a gawky adolescent named Marina spoke up, “And they always repay a service done. I know, 'cause when I was a little girl, I lost my doll. So I left a saucer of milk and a bit of fish outside and the next morning the milk and fish were gone and my doll was returned.”

“No doubt child, someone was having a bit of fun with you.”

“Father!” Scamander scolded, “Where's your faith?”

“Are you really a doctor?”

When he saw Horace standing behind his chair Dr. Flesh grinned broadly. He and lifted the little boy into his lap, “What was that?”

Horace's only reply was to look away, his face reddening.

“It's all right.” Brother Scamander swallowed hard, “He won't hurt you.”

“That's right.” Dr. Flesh agreed, “I won't harm a single solitary hair on your head. Ask away buster.”

“Are you really a doctor?”

“Well no.”

Horace made eye contact, “Then why do they call you Dr. Flesh?”

Scamander issued an evil laugh. Dr. Flesh shot him an equally evil look, “Enjoying this?”


“Why am I called Dr. Flesh? Dr. Flesh looked to the chandelier as though it might provide answers, “Why am I called Dr. Flesh?”

It soon became apparent the almost everone at the table was deathly quiet, poised to pounce on his answer. Dr. Flesh decided to offer them a shade of the truth.

“When I was younger,” He began, “a fad started up here. People started using fake names instead of their real names.”


“To try and sound more impressive. I'll give you an example. Now your name is Horace, right?”


“Now tell me truthfully Horace, would you rather be called Horace or the Amazing GhostBoy?”

He smiled sheepishly, “Ghostboy.”

“And which name do you think would scare more people?”


Dr. Flesh glanced briefly at Scamander, “Well, that's how it was back then, people were calling themselves things like the Gray Mandarin, BoneDancer, the Misery Perfecter, Lord Evernight... even Mr. Kriely had a nickname back then. They called him Carpetbagger.”

Father Muñoz snorted, “Sounds like something from out of a comic book.”

“Believe me it was.” Dr. Flesh said.

One of the older children whispered a single “Wow.”

“What's your real name?” Horace asked.

“Uh oh.” Brother Scamander chuckled.

“Maybe I should call you the Question Box.” Dr. Flesh remarked.

“What's your real name?”

“Horace, that's a very personal thing to me.”

“I won't tell anybody.”

“I know. It's just, private. Only my son and my... and my wife know it.”

The boy frowned with disappointment, “That's OK.”

“But I'll tell you what.” Dr. Flesh said, a glimmer of mischief in his eyes, “How would you like to know your father's old nickname?”

Brother Scamander tried to object but he was shouted down by his own children. Dr. Flesh looked around the table and said, “I won't tell you how he got the name, I'll let your imaginations work that out...”

“Please my friend, do not do this.”

“But when I met your father he called himself ‘The Aquarian’”

“The aquarium?” Horace said curiously. The Children squealed and laughed with delight, some of their mothers did as well.

Brother Scamander blushed furiously, “You are not going to make it out of this house alive I can tell you that.”

- - -

Conversation and drinks lasted long into the night, half the fun had been in watching Scamander and Father Muñoz trying to convert one another. Dr. Flesh was surprised to find he could enjoy himself after all the unpleasantness of the day.

Wandering down the hall to his room his worries returned. Comprachio. If Addlbert and Joy know that name, and what it means, then so does Morgan...

His train of thought came squealing to a halt when he saw what was waiting for him in his room. Three candles had been lit and placed in front of the bureau mirror, their illumination refracted this way and that, like shadows on a diamond.

Giselle was waiting for him, wearing a sheer nightgown; her hair hung down around her shoulders in wild curls. Smiling demurely she closed the door behind him, “My husband told me to come to you tonight.”

A flush worked its way over his skin, “That's very flattering but I really don't-”
Standing on tip-toes she swallowed his words with a kiss. Dr. Flesh' tried to push her away but she caught her hands in hers and guided them to the round curves of her hips. She held them there with gentle strength until the kiss broke.

Dr. Flesh had to admit he was impressed. Just a few hours ago he'd visited a brothel and the only thing that had gotten his pulse rate going was his fight with the eunuchs. But this woman had his heart hammering. He hadn't felt this way in years.

Giselle looked up at him with a glint in her eyes, “My husband also says that if you try to refuse me I am to rape you.”

“What?” He had to laugh.

“If you try to send me away,” She stroked his face, her fingers tracing the blush that was forming, “I am to throw you to the floor, tear off your clothes and ravish you.”

He reached up and brushed a curl of hair from her face, “You think you could do that to me?”

“I don't think I'll have to.” She trailed kisses along his throat. Her hand reached under his shirt and caressed his chest.

Dr. Flesh unknotted the drawstring of her nightgown and it fell away.

- - -

Stirring uneasily from sleep, Dr. Flesh sat up, his eyes wide and light starved. A breath later the disorientation passed, he remembered now - he was safe in one of Scamander's bedrooms. He wiped the moisture from his forehead with a corner of the bedsheet and tried to recapture the dream that had driven him from his slumber.

“Are you all right?” A soft voice asked from the pillow beside him. A warm hand stroked his back.

“I'm fine.” He whispered to Giselle, “Just a bad dream.”

“Where are you going?” She rose up on one shoulder.

Dr. Flesh swung his legs out of bed, “My bladder.”

“Oh,” She leaned back.

“What time is it?”

“Almost two, I think.”

The plush carpeting quieted his footsteps as he made his way to the bathroom and fumbled for the lights.

“Who's Rachel?”

“Where… where did you hear that name?”

“At the end…” She explained, “…you called me Rachel.”

“I'm sorry.” Dr. Flesh found the switch but chose to stare into darkness, “I hope I haven't offended you.”

“No. I was just curious.”

“Ah.” He closed the door and switched on the lights. He hadn't really needed to relieve himself, just some time alone to collect his thoughts. He turned on the faucet and splashed handfuls of cool water onto his face. He didn’t want to go to sleep and the last three pills were out on the nightstand.

Most of the story he had told Horace was true, but the part he made sure not to mention was that the fad for theatrical sounding pseudonyms had died out by the 1970’s. For him however the name stuck. And last person to call him by his given name had been his wife, and she was long gone wasn’t she?

A familiar sound startled him from his worries. He turned the water off and listened. Dr. Flesh threw open the door and ran into the bedroom.

Giselle knelt at the windowsill, the snow heavy wind tousled her thick curls. “Where did you come from?” She cooed, “Huh? Where did you come from?”

It was the orange tomcat.

It took one look at Dr. Flesh and ceased preening and purring for her. It stretched to its feet and shot him a demanding glare.

“What do you want from me?” Dr. Flesh growled.

“It's just a cat.” Giselle said.

The orange tomcat turned and half slid, half clawed its way down the trellis.
“Where are my clothes?”

“On the dresser.”

Dr. Flesh grabbed his jeans from the pile of freshly laundered garments and struggled into them, all the while trying to keep an eye on his quarry.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m not the kind of man to turn down an invitation twice.” He threw on his shirt and waistcoat.

Hearing the urgency in his voice, Giselle helped him recover his boots from beneath the bed, “Shall I tell Scamander where you've gone?”

“Don't bother, it's probably nothing. Although perhaps Father Muñoz would like to my see my guard cat.”

She fetched the leather Inverness from the closet and held it open for him “The Father left a little while before I came to see you. He said he had to get back to the business of souls.”

“Too bad.” Dr. Flesh eased into his coat and pulled his battered octagon rimmed glasses from one of the pockets.

He was halfway out the window when he thought to ask, “Do you think this thing'll hold me?”

Giselle shrugged.

The snow covered trellis creaked threateningly as he lowered himself down but it held. When he had both feet on solid ground, he turned to look for the cat.

Where is it?

Feeling more and more the fool, Dr. Flesh cursed and scanned the white courtyard.

The orange tomcat stood at the gateway, waiting.

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