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 Damn Him to Hell

Saturn's Daughter 2

by

Jamie Quaid

1

On a noisy Friday night inside Chesty’s pole-dancing bar and restaurant, no one heard the gargoyles scream until the front door crashed in.

The pounding rock music in the bar screeched to a halt—not an unusual occurrence or a reason for alarm. The DJ often had to spin albums with a hand crank, since anything electronic developed a personality of its own in the Zone. But this time, the shrill aiieeeee of the town gargoyles shattered the abrupt silence.

Like most of the other patrons, I’d been boogying hard and was annoyed with the abrupt cutoff.

Glimpsing two old people falling through the distant door, whacking at each other, I shrugged off the fight but puzzled over the earsplitting shrieks. The rest of Chesty’s clientele returned to eating and drinking. The girls on the poles put their clothes back on and wandered off until the DJ could get the music rolling again.

Drunk on appletinis and sweaty from dancing off my exultation, I wiped my brow with the back of my arm. The persistence of the unholy screams raised my hackles, despite the buzz I’d been working on. The bar area didn’t have windows, so I slipped inside the office I used to share with Ernesto, the club manager, to look out the small one there.

In the blue glow of the Zone, I could barely make out the outline of a stone gargoyle sitting atop the gutter of the building next door. It seemed to be stretching its neck and screeching bloody murder. While they were supposed to be mere architectural details, gargoyles in the Zone occasionally strolled the alleyways. They’d even been known to mutter insults. But they never just sat there and screamed.

Not knowing what to make of this nonstandard alarm system, I returned to the main room and sought Andre to see whether he’d gone for the battling old guys, the DJ, or an AK-47 to shoot the noisy gutter. Andre Legrande owns Chesty’s and most of the businesses in the Zone. He’s also an amoral enigma, but I was confident he’d know what it meant when gargoyles cried.

I caught sight of him across the room, pushing through the weekend crowd toward the struggling pair who’d broken in the door. Out of a sense of curiosity that will be the death of me one of these days, I slipped along the sidelines to do the same. Once upon a time I had been invisible to most of this crowd—a gap-toothed, four-eyed, limping nerd so innocuous that I disappeared into the woodwork. Nowadays, thanks to the rewards my patron saint, Saturn, bestowed upon me for damning people to hell, I was more noticeable, and had a reputation. People tended to shift out of my way of late.

A puff of green and pink cloud drifted through the open doorway. Andre picked up his pace. So did I, my unease climbing.

What kind of craziness produced pink-and-green clouds? The Zone’s massive pollution had created serious anomalies over the years, like the neon-blue buildings and the ambling gargoyles, but so far it hadn’t changed the weather.

I winced as one of the old drunks smashed a chair over his opponent’s head. Instead of collapsing in a bloody heap, his victim simply shook a shaggy mane in bewilderment—which was the moment I recognized her. A her, not a him. Nancy Rose! Why would mild-mannered, motherly Nancy Rose the hippie florist be in a barroom brawl with a bum?

Hurrying, I shoved aside a drunk who got in my way.

Unlike other Zone inhabitants who changed because of the chemical pollution, I have a cosmic birth defect for which toxic waste can’t be blamed. It seems I was born in the seventh house under a wrong asteroid or something, which warped my chromosomes and made me one of Saturn’s daughters. Mostly, it gives me an innate ability to screw up my life seeking justice. Repeatedly.

I couldn’t let Nancy Rose’s assault go uncontested. I was about to drunkenly conjure a whammy to turn the old bully into a toadstool when—to my astonishment—the chair wielder keeled over, blocking the entry with his bulk.

Seemingly unharmed, short, stout Nancy Rose stood dazed and swaying over her assailant’s sprawled body. Only when he didn’t get up to finish the fight did she slowly topple herself.

Weird. Staggering drunks might be mother’s milk around here, but not fighting florists.

The pink and green cloud continued to seep through the doorway.

Andre reached the entrance before me. He stepped over both bodies and glanced in the direction of the chemical factory to the north. I made it to his side just in time to hear him mutter “Frigging shit” before cursing in three languages that I understood and a few more that I didn’t. Formerly Special Ops, Andre Legrande has a colorful background, and I could tell he was about to harsh what remained of my mellow.

My gut churned as I kneeled beside Nancy Rose to check her pulse.

Verifying she was alive and breathing normally, I stood up and stepped over the bodies into the street.

On the harbor along this industrial south side of Baltimore, the Zone glowed blue neon on a normal night. A series of chemical floods over the past ten years had polluted the land along the water where tanks had once stored the output of our neighborhood chemical companies—the kind of places that create nerve gases for wars as well as personal hygiene products.

After the last flood, the EPA had cordoned off the blighted harbor and abandoned the Zone’s commercial district to the shadow of the rusted-out chimneys of the derelict plant. Acme Chemical had rebuilt up the hill to the north of us. Tonight, a noxious pink and green cloud drifted down that hill.

Holy crap. Acme sent gas and not a flood this time? Did they want to eradicate us?

“That pink looks really bad against the blue,” I pronounced with drunken brilliance.

“Shut up, Clancy,” Andre said angrily.

My name is actually Mary Justine Clancy, but no one gets to use my first name. Most people just call me Tina, except Andre the All-Knowing.

“I’ll handle Nancy Rose and clear the club,” he snapped. “You need to go home and wake up Pearl and my father and herd them into the basement until we know what’s happening. I’ll be up right behind you.”

I was too buzzed to panic but not too drunk to register fear at Andre’s fury.

I stared in trepidation at the chemical plant, trying not to believe we were being gassed in the middle of the night. Lights were popping on all over the plant, but I didn’t think they had a night shift.

“And here I thought tonight would be our night. I was really ready to celebrate that you’re no longer my boss,” I said with drunken regret.

After years of struggling and a fortune’s worth of law school debt, I’d just received my official notice welcoming me to the Maryland bar. I was a real lawyer now, no longer a dispenser of street justice or Andre’s flunky. And I was about to be gassed by a pink cloud before I could find out what was beneath Andre’s silk shirts.

Familiar amusement flickered in his dark eyes as he checked out my revealing halter top and micro- shorts.

“I don’t do lawyers,” he replied, mocking my earlier rejection, when I’d told him I didn’t do bosses. Andre holds a grudge. “I’m sure the senator does.”

I punched his arm for that snide remark, but the cloud rising ominously larger and more luminous had me heading up the street at a fast clip.

If Andre was going to handle Nancy Rose, I needed to save my neighbors and my cat. Milo was aberrant enough—the whole Zone was aberrant enough—without being nuked by a Disney cloud.

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