Preparing for the show at the Isle of Wight
Hounds of Hell
Before he could reach the office door, Francois heard screams of shock and terror from inside. Rushing in, he beheld the bizarre image of two men caught in an unimaginable struggle. As he suspected, The Book lay open, but although his eyes saw it, he found it hard to comprehend the sight of a man's hand turning as white as the pages into which it disappeared. René had both hands around Mustafa's arm, attempting to free him, but seemed to be losing the battle.
"You fools!" Delaflote shouted. "I warned you!"
"Aide-moi, s'il vous plaît!" His face twisted in agony, Mustafa shrieked, "Il brûle. Je suis en feu!" His fingers and knuckles were no longer visible. Immersed in the pages up to his wrist, his glassy eyes were filled with fear and pain. Mixed with the noxious odor of sulphur, the smell of burning flesh fouled the air.
Lunging across the desk, Francois grabbed Mustafa's arm, just above René's hold. "Pull, pull," he cried. "Tirer!"
René shouted, "Mustafa opened it earlier. He said he saw nothing. A moment ago he opened it again and said he saw a title written on one of the pages, something about rape . . . but I saw nothing! I cannot free him! He's being dragged in!"
The hand was gone, pulled into The Book past the wrist. The forearm turned pale, the skin adopted a papery texture all the way to the elbow, but with the addition of Delaflote's strong hands the rate of descent slowed.
"Do not give up, Mustafa!" Delaflote yelled, "We can't get you out if you quit on us. We need your strength. Pull! Your soul depends on it! Pull with all your might, and pray to be forgiven of whatever sin you have committed!
Mustafa screamed again, "Their teeth, they burn! I cannot resist, I am not strong enough!" His eyes began to roll up and back into his head. The odor of burning flesh became strong enough to nauseate and weaken even the most iron-willed man.
"No, no, you cannot give up!" Delaflote shouted. "Pull with us, Mustafa, help us!" Using every ounce of their strength, Francois and René turned the tide in the tug of war between earth and the forces of hell.
Inch by inch, Mustafa's mangled wrist and hand began to reappear. Blackened and bleeding, layers of seared, flayed skin, hung in strips from muscle and bone as if it had been burned, bitten and torn. "Keep pulling," Francois shouted. "Don't stop! Help us Mustafa, help us!"
Damien and Judas burst into the office at that moment. Shock and revulsion registered on their faces from what they saw and smelled. "Sweet Jesus!" Judas shouted. "Sweet Jesus, it's real - Oh, my God!"
Judas ran to help, while Damien remained in the doorway, watching. "Have no pity on this man," he cried out. "His soul is as black as his seared skin - charred and stained beyond all hope of redemption. Let him go," he urged. "He has been judged and must therefore suffer, just as he has caused others to suffer."
Paying no attention to Damien, Judas, Francois and René finally managed to pull Mustafa free. As the poor man's hand emerged, instead of lying flat, the animated pages of The Book stretched upward from the binding, still trying to reach and devour the man's body and soul. A bloody mess of twisted, torn tissue and bone was all that remained of Mustafa's hand and fingers. Laying him down on the floor behind the desk, Francois pressed down on an artery near the wrist, trying to stem the alarming flow of blood that spurted ominously with each beat of Mustafa's racing heart.
"My God," Damien spread his arms out wide. "Imagine the magnified power of The Book on a big screen, broadcast from coast to coast and continent to continent."
"Monsieur Faust, we need a first aid kit if you have one. Get some towels," Francois ordered.
Acting as if he hadn't heard a word, Damien continued to stand just inside the doorway, staring at the ceiling, paraphrasing scripture. "He that believeth not shall be damned. He whose name is not found in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire . . ."
Seeing that Damien was of no use, Judas offered to get the towels and the medical kit. On his way out of the office he shouted at Damien. "Snap out of it, 'D'," he pleaded. "At least call for a medical emergency unit." Turning back towards René, who stared down in shock at his co-worker, Judas shouted, "Hey, Hey you!"
René turned and stared, looking helpless and confused after the shock he experienced.
"You're going to have to call the SAMU." Then, pointing at Damien, Judas shook his head and said, "He's fuckin' useless."
As Judas disappeared, René pulled his cell phone from his jumpsuit. With trembling, blood-covered hands, he managed to dial 1-1-2. Responding as if in a dream to the questions asked by the emergency call center attendant, he provided Damien's address and Mustafa's name, but when asked about the nature of the emergency, he fumbled for what to say. "Un homme a été, uh, uh . . ."
From the floor, still applying pressure to curb the flow of blood from Mustafa's wrist and hand, Delaflote looked up and suggested, "Just say there has been an accident. One man is injured. His hand and wrist are bleeding badly. Also, you need to tell them no weapons are involved."
René looked down at Francois, nodded gratefully, took a calming breath and continued doing things as the security chief suggested, "Il ya eu un accident . . .
In just over ten minutes the SAMU, equivalent to an ambulance in the United States, arrived. René accompanied Mustafa, who moaned and mumbled incoherently while being carried from the office by the emgergency medical service attendants. It would be a short ride to the nearest emergency trauma care center, hôpital Hôtel-Dieu, one of the oldest hospitals in Paris.
~ ~ ~
At two o'clock, Francois Delaflote stood shirtless in Damien's bathroom, staring into the pink marble sink. Swirling in the basin, white, sudsy bubbles mixed with the dark brown of Mustafa's dried, clotted blood before spinning down the drain. As he pulled a hand towel from the golden ring on the wall to dry off, he noticed in the mirror that Damien and Judas stood behind him.
Speaking to the reflection, Francois said, "He's lucky to be alive, you know."
Damien voiced his own opinion. "He's lucky not to be in hell, but I got the distinct feeling that The Book seemed more intent on sending a message than taking a soul."
"What do you mean?" Judas asked.
"I'm not sure." Damien replied. "It just felt like The Book wanted news of its existence to spread. I think it wanted someone associated with Mustafa to know where it is."
Rubbing the light brown towel over his right forearm, Francois said, "René mentioned that Mustafa saw something appear on one of the pages, something about rape. Whatever Mustafa did," he conjectured, "it evidently didn't show up when they ran the background check on him at the Louvre." Francois placed the towel back in the ring and turned to see Damien holding a black T-Shirt. "Is that for me?"
Damien held it out. "I think you'll approve."
Francois took it. Holding it up, the security chief regarded the likeness of five young men, one with horns, above the words, "Highway to Hell."
"AC/DC," Damien exclaimed. "Great rock and roll. The shirt might be a little tight, but that'll look good on you, what with your muscles and all."
Francois pulled it over his head and turned around to admire it in the mirror. A little too tight, as Damien predicted, it highlighted his still-enviable physique.
"It does look good," Judas nodded, approvingly.
"Down boy," Damien patted Judas on the rear. "Leave the nice bodyguard's body alone."
~ ~ ~
Lying next to Damien, as mid-morning light streamed through the window on the far side of the bedroom, Judas hesitated to bring the subject up. He desperately wanted to preserve what they had together, but couldn't keep his mind off of it and couldn't force himself to look the other way. "You ain't been the same lately, D."
"What do you mean? You sure seemed to enjoy yourself just now, or was that my imagination?"
"I don't mean this," Judas smiled, "you know I love this." His uncomfortable, apologetic smile reflected his reluctance to approach the subject weighing heavy on his mind. Reaching out, he took Damien's hand, squeezing it gently. "It's just, well, you know I'm not comfortable with what you want to do at the Isle of Wight."
Damien rolled onto his side to face Judas. "I can't help it, Ju," he said. "I have a chance to do something that will be remembered forever. Something more than just great music. Just let me do what I have to do and let us go on the way we are. Don't mess things up."
"Don't you realize how you get when you're around that thing? You go all Jesusy, man. It's fuckin' wierd."
Damien took a deep breath and let it out. "I know. It's like, like I become more than what I am. Like I get hooked into something old and powerful and spiritual. It's a rush like I never felt before, not even when I used to do H. You helped me get through that. I never could have stopped without you."
"You sure never acted like this before," Judas professed.
"I don't think you understand the way I feel, Ju. It's not like going to church and getting all caught up in the spirit and the idea of going to heaven. It's way, way more than that. It's like tapping into the Creator's will. It's almost like I become a part of The Holy Trinity, like I can hear and feel and sense what it is that needs to be done to set things on the right path once again."
"Man," Judas sounded worried. "If what you're saying is true, that's some deep shit."
"I know," Damien agreed. "I know it is. I need you to stand by me, Ju. Don't make me have to do this all alone . . . without you."
"Man, don't you realize . . . you ain't no Son of God? You're just a man."
"Jesus was a man." Damien countered. "But, you're right, I'm not Jesus. Actually, I've become more than that, much more."
"Oh, no, please, "Judas cringed, bringing a hand to his forehead.
"Nobody would listen to Jesus today. They'd all run from that radical, religious shit, but everyone is going to want to hear us at the Isle of Wight. Adolph has it all set up with HBO. We'll be on satellite, cable, and the internet. I'm what Jesus would need to be if he came back today. I'm the whisper everyone will strain to hear. I'm judgment with a vengeful fist and I'm the reward for kindness and caring - a gentle kiss to the meek. When the sun comes up on June the twentieth, this will be a different world, a better place for mankind. Share the joy with me, Ju. Share the joy I can bring to the world. Don't run off. Don't forsake me the way Christ's apostles forsook him." Damien scooted closer to Judas. "I'm all about love, Ju. I always have been."
Judas reached up and smoothed Damien's golden curls away from his face. He leaned forward, kissed his cheek and then drew back, his face and eyes reflecting concern and care as deep within his heart his emotions waged a battle. "I love you, 'D' . . . I do, but I'm scared. That thing is soooo dangerous."
"Don't be afraid. It won't harm you." Damien reached out, pulled Judas tightly against him and held him; two tender, sensitive souls with strong, muscular bodies, each one drawing what he needed from the other. The mood and the silence was broken by the sound of Judas's stomach growling. "Want to get something to eat?" Damien asked.
"Yeah, or else we gonna have to listen to that all mornin'."
The band's frustrated security chief argued in Damien's office, on his cell with representatives of the Louvre. "The incident could have been avoided if the men had followed my directions. Look, this is not a daycare facility. I can't stay with them the entire time they are here. I need two men who can follow orders."
Whistling Stairway to Heaven, Adolph opened the door and sauntered in, making himself comfortable in one of the chairs that faced The Little Emperor's desk. He lifted the cup of coffee he carried on a saucer, took a sip and waited for Francois Delaflote to finish his conversation.
"René will not return?" The Frenchman scowled. "How soon can you send two replacements? We don't have time to waste. We are in a situation that requires immediate action." Francois listened for a moment, nodded, and then ended the conversation. "If they are not here by two this afternoon I will be calling back. Bonne journée." Laying the phone on the desk, he turned his attention to the band's manager.
"Nice T-shirt," Adolph commented. "Good to see you in something other than a white, dress-shirt."
"You think so? Damien gave me this to wear last night. It's a bit tight, but Judas thought it looked good on me."
"What'd you do with The Book?"
Delaflote pointed to his left, at the large, custom-built safe that stood against one of the room's eight walls. "It's secure."
"Damien let you have the combination?"
"You think he should not have done so?"
"He never gave it to me," Adolph drawled, "and he's had that safe for a year, but, what the fuck, C'est la vie. Quite a scare we had last night. Bad business, very bad . . . I hear one of the Louvre's people was severely injured." Adolph took another sip of coffee, crossed one leg over the other and rested his cup and saucer on the top of his thigh.
"Yes, most regrettable. May I ask, from whom did you hear this, monsieur?"
"From the lawyer suing us on behalf of Mustafa Alhamzi."
“Hmmm. They didn’t waste any time, did they?”
“Naaah, but don’t worry," Adolph waved his hand, demonstrating his lack of concern. "We get sued all the time. I was beginning to worry . . . we hadn’t been sued in almost six months. That’s why we retain a team of high-powered barristers. When we go to trial, we rarely lose.”
"I'm glad to hear that." Glancing at his cell phone, which lay on the desk, Delaflote said, "You know the problem with T-shirts?" He picked up his iPhone and said, "No place to put this."
"I've got a custom-fit holster that clips on my belt -- you oughtta get one," Adolph suggested.
"Perhaps. I hear it when it's in the breast pocket of my jacket, but I never hear it when it rings in my pants, and every time I place it on the desk I get up and walk away without remembering it." Figuring Adolph wasn't there to talk about cell phones, Francois asked, "What is on your mind, Monsieur Stackhouse?"
"Our new ad campaign. I figured you should see the shit we're stirrin' up before it hits the fan."
Adolph set his saucer and cup on the corner of the desk. He grunted as he rose and walked over to where a mini-DVD player sat on a shelf beneath a wall-mounted, 73 inch, wide-screen TV. Pulling a tiny silver disk from his shirt pocket, he turned around, held it up, between his thumb and forefinger, and said, "This baby's gonna cause quite a buzz." He picked up the universal remote, clicked it to open the player's tray, placed the disc on it, and turned the volume on the surround sound system up to an appreciable level before stepping back to admire the promotional ad.
The promo began by immersing the viewer in the midst of a large concert crowd, clapping and chanting. The voices of the fans came from all of the surrounding speakers. “Hounds of Hell, Hounds of Hell, Hounds of Hell…"
From the front, center speaker, over the crowd noise, a commanding voice announced, “On Sunday night, June 19th, HBO and The Hounds of Hell will forever alter mankind’s opinion of the afterlife."
The image and commotion of the concert crowd faded, replaced by Adolph and his Hitleresque rant on the sidewalk of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. “Mark your calendars, people! On June 19th, Zee Hounds of Hell vill close zee Isle of Wight Festival vith zee most sensational act in entertainment history. It vill be an event you vill never forget, zat is, if you are lucky enough to survive it.” The image froze with a close-up of Adolph’s face, which dissolved into flames against a black background.
Emerging from the flames, the announcer's voice returned over the band's powerful brand of rock and roll, and the realistic image of a demonic, three-headed, sabre-toothed hound. "On Sunday night, June 19th on HBO, you are cordially invited to Go to Hell..." Each of the demon dog's snouts drooled and snapped independently. The hound and the band's music were supplanted by church organ music and a white-suited, elderly black minister standing behind a pulpit, shaking a bible in his upraised hand, shouting, “He that believeth not shall be damned!."
The chanting concert audience from the beginning of the ad reappeared. Over the crowd, the authoritative voice of the announcer boomed, "The Hounds of Hell at the Isle of Wight Festival. It would be a sin to miss it. After all, it’s not TV, it’s HBO. Sunday night, June the 19th."
Adolph used the small remote to open the DVD player's tray. Removing the mini-disk, he said, "That little booger'll run on HBO, and
fifteen or twenty other networks around the world. The boys won't hit the stage until midnight, that'll put 'em on the air in the USA at seven on the East coast." After the Teutonic tantrum in the promo, his naturally laid-back drawl sounded strange coming from lips with a little Hitler mustache perched above them. After crossing the room, he sat down again, dropped the disk back into his pocket, and said, "Not bad for a thirty second spot, huh? Whadaya think?"
Still staring at the blank screen, Delaflote seemed stunned. "I'm not sure what to think."
"What? You don't think the ad works? Whadaya mean?" Concern clouded Adolph's face.
Francois explained, "What I mean is I've never seen anything quite like it. It's, it's a little scary."
Der Dallas Führer's countenance brightened. He made a fist with his left hand and pumped it in the air, "Thaaaat's what I'm talkin' about, Double-Oh! Hoo-wee!"
"Yeah, that's what everyone calls you -- ever since the little skirmish in front of the barn."
Francois swiveled in Damien's big, leather chair to face Adolph, and nodded. "I suppose I've been called worse."
"Shit yeah, by me for starters."
"By you?" Delaflote's eyebrows tweaked up.
"Yeah, after you twisted my arm and threw me down." Adolph flexed his right arm. "Owww. Sucker still hurts."
"You're not wearing your sling?"
"Would you like me to massage it for you?"
"You keep your paws off me. You done helped me enough."
The door to the office swung open, revealing a towering goddess shimmering in a black and orange, sequined pantsuit. Waiting until she had both men's attention, Delilah sashayed across the room, with the swan-like grace of a fashion model on a runway and slipped into the chair next to Adolph.
Adolph commented on Delilah's sparkling shoes in a sing-song voice. "Daaaamn . . . girl. If those heels were any higher you'd have to duck under the ceiling fan."
"So what's this shit I hear about The Book?" Delilah asked, her foul words spoiling the refined image her entrance implied. "I want to see it."
"I put it away." Francois pointed towards the safe.
Delillah had no problem asking for what she wanted."Well, get it out."
"I planned to wait until Damien arrived."
"Plans change." She had a firm, I'm not going to take no for an answer, look on her face.
"Not this time," Francois insisted.
"You don't want to piss me off, Double-Oh." Her expression hardened from firm to granite.
"You're right, I don't. So don't get pissed off."
After a few extra seconds of staring, Delilah turned to Adolph and said, "Open her up, 'Hitler'."
"I don't have the combination," Adolph shrugged. "I could show you our promo for the concert. Wanna see that?"
"Fuck that. I came here to see The Book."
Adolph pointed at Francois and said, "Why don't you ask him again? Try saying pretty pleeease . . . with sugar on it, this time."
Delilah grabbed the arms of the chair and pulled herself to her feet in a huff. "I don't have time for this." Pointing at Delaflote she steamed, "Double fuck you, Double-Oh. And by the way, about the little dance we had in front of the barn, the next time you take me off my feet for something other than a good fuck, I'll cut your cha-chas off."
"I'll remember that, Thanks." Francois winked, a gesture that apparently went unappreciated. Delilah stomped out.
As the door slammed shut, Adolph rubbed his hands together and grinned at Francois. "Ahhh, the mating dance."
"Mating dance?" Francois appeared confused. "Why would you say that?"
"She didn't try to cut your balls off, did she?"
"Well, the last two stallions that physically attacked her can't say the same. It happened about a year ago. She turned one into a gelding."
Stunned by the revelation, Francois stared in the direction of the door, shook his head and uttered a long, drawn-out, "Noooo."
"Oh, yes. Yes, indeed." Like a witness in court, Adolph raised his right hand, a twinge of pain causing him to wince. "So help me God. As a result of that little incident, Delilah faced charges of assault and battery. But, like I said, when we go to trial we rarely lose. You know, Francois, I kinda think she likes you, but if I was you I'd be careful."
Adolph let his warning soak in for a moment. Extricating himself from the chair, he grunted like an old man and flexed his bad wing. Once on his feet, he retrieved his cup and saucer from the corner of Napoleon's desk and said, "Let's go see what's cookin' in the kitchen."
~ ~ ~
Giggling at a fresh text, Pilot and Cain leaned forward at one end of the large, rustic table that took up over half of the comfortable,
unpretentious kitchen. Nearly empty mugs of coffee and plates littered with used silverware and the remnants of croissants and omelettes were pushed toward the center of the table to make room for elbows. Damien and Judas stood by the stove, holding out their plates for the fruit-filled crêpes prepared by 'Cookie', the chef.
Pilot greeted the security chief with a goofy smile. "Good morning, Double-Oh," and then added, "Still got your balls?"
Francois turned to Adolph who shrugged and said, "News travels fast around here."
"When are you guys going nun hunting?" Pilot inquired.
"Why?" Adolph asked. "Been auditioning them already? Made any outrageous promises to a cute one who's been on your casting couch?"
"I'm not into nuns," Pilot assured the band's manager, "but I am into the keyboard instruments found in some of the churches."
"We'll probably start this afternoon," Adolph replied. "Any particular churches you figure we should visit?"
"Yeah, You might try the Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste, in Perpignan."
"Why go so far south?" Adolph suggested two, nearer, churches he felt Pilot might approve. Fingers wiggling over an imaginary keyboard, he said, "I thought you'd be interested in a chance to play their pipe organs."
"Been there, done that, loved it," Pilot replied. "The L’église Saint-Eustache pipe organ is the largest in France, bigger than the organs of Saint Sulpice and Notre Dame, but what I'm after is a chance to record a Carillon."
"A whaaaat?" Adolph turned to Francois. The expression of befuddlement he encountered suggested the security chief didn't have a clue.
The band's expert on all keyboard instruments explained, "They have an instrument in Perpignan that I want to record for the show, it's called a Carillon. I'll need to buy some P-Z-Ms, pressure zone mics, to record it."
"Tell me about this instrument, Pilot," Adolph invited. "What's so danged special about it?"
"It's a keyboard instrument that plays church bells. If the bells were carefully cast so that they are in tune with each other, the sound can be incredible — spiritual and celestial, unlike anything you've ever heard. We could use it for the encore, when the nun appears onstage at the Isle of Wight. It would be perfect."
"Reluctantly, Adolph asked, "I know I'm probably not gonna understand, but why do we need these P-Z-M mics? We have thousands of dollars worth of microphones. Why can't you use the ones we have?"
"Well, well, well." Pilot folded his arms and glared at Adolph for a moment. "I thought I was supposed to be the stupid one around here. That's what you've told everyone, Adolph - ever since I signed the name you gave me by spelling it P-I-L-O-T instead of P-I-L-A-T-E. How was I supposed to know? I never attended seminary school."
"All right," Adolph offered a half-assed apology, "I take it back, you're a genius, Gump. Now, stop pouting and get to the point."
"The point is, normal microphones aren't a good choice for recording church bells. They pick up sound waves from the primary source and accompanying reverberations, which make for a bad recording. A pressure zone mic eliminates interference from reflected sound waves and keeps them in phase. They have a smooth frequency response, excellent off-axis consistency and strong output levels, so it makes good sense to buy some. We might even consider using one on Dante's bass drum."
Adolph turned to Francois. "Did you understand any of that?"
Francois shook his head. "Only a word here and there — what language was that, anyway?"
"Look," Pilot suggested. "Let me and Cain go down to Perpignan on our own. I really don't fancy going nun hunting with you chaps. We'll record the carillon and let you decide if we can use it. Just promise me I'll be reimbursed for the P-Z-M mics. They aren't expensive, but I shouldn't have to pay out of my own pocket."
"Fair enough," Adolph agreed.
Pilot raised a hand and said, "One other thing."
Adolph's eyebrows rose as he waited for whatever the thing might be.
"I have some advice for Monsieur Delaflote."
Uninterested in P-Z-M mics and not having eaten breakfast, Francois' attention had strayed to Damien and Judas, devouring the crêpes on their plates. Surprised to hear his name, he said, "Oui, monsieur? You have something to say to me?"
Pilot nodded, held up his cell phone and said, "Listen Double-Oh, Delilah texted us about that little wink you gave her, but if —"
"If you're interested," Cain interrupted his twin brother, eager to finish the sentence and offer some advice. "You might want to know she likes roses. But I'd —"
"Ah, yes," Francois stopped Cain. "I know. You'd be careful around her."
"Yeah . . . very." Cain confirmed Francois' supposition. "Because she'll cut your balls off, man." Damien and Judas looked up from their plates and nodded in serious agreement. There were raised eyebrows all around, even over the eyes of the chef.
"Want some breakfast?" Adolph asked. "I do," The rich aromas of freshly brewed coffee and smoked bacon, sizzling in a skillet filled the kitchen.
"Oui," Francois answered, "I think I'll have the chef prepare some eggs and bacon for me, and a fruit crêpe like Damien's. I'll be right back," he turned to leave the room. "I left my phone on the office desk."
"What'd I tell ya?" Adolph called out. "You need to get you one of them little clip-on holders, like mine."
Disappearing through the door, Francois replied over his shoulder, "Oui, that and a pair of steel briefs to protect my cha-chas."
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