Midnight in the darkened Stardust Bijou theater. Time when the popcorn is past soggy, the soda is quite flat, and the people in the front row no longer leave to go to the bathroom. The projector starts, sounding like a werewolf howling at a waning full moon, and the images, flickering across the screen, come alive.
By JM Cozzoli
“No, go to the last elevator,” said detective first grade, John Ligotti, stopping at the concierge desk. The uniformed officer he was talking to nodded and went to the end of the elevator bank and pressed the button. Officer Penny Nichols looked around, taking it all in while she waited for the elevator. She needed a cup of coffee. A large cup. The night was getting late. Or was the morning coming too soon?
“It’s Art Deco, they tell me,” said Ligotti, joining her.
“You mean to tell me this guy has an office here?” she asked, incredulous. “Looks fancy enough to be expensive.”
“No, he doesn’t rent space here,” replied Ligotti.
“Oh, okay, that’s--”
“He owns the building.”
Nichols inhaled a short breath then let it out. “But, the Chrysler Building?”
“Yeah, all of it. I know.”
The elevator door opened. Ligotti stepped in and Nichols followed.
“Press the seven and three buttons together, then press three again. That’s the only way to get to the thirteenth floor,” directed Ligotti in his best Bela Lugosi imitation.
She paused for a second and was about to say something, then shrugged her shoulders and pressed the panel buttons as directed. The elevator doors closed. She was told by the other officers to expect weird, unusual, and never-discuss-it-with-us kinds of things when she accepted Ligotti’s offer to step in for Officer Redshirt. That was not the officer’s real name, but there had been so many officers who wound up in the hospital, the generic name stuck. At least no was dead yet, and that made her acceptance easier. She was getting bored and needed a challenge. She just wondered if this one was the right kind. She liked Detective Ligotti. That biased her decision. He had a lot to like.
When the elevator doors opened, her eyes were greeted by a glass-enclosed, wall-sized, movie theater poster showing King Kong hanging around the Empire State Building.
“I was told that’s an original three sheet poster for the 1933 movie,” said Ligotti.
“Don’t tell me he owns that building, too?”
“Don’t know. I haven’t gotten around to asking him yet. This way.”
Ligotti stepped onto the rich red carpeting in the hallway and turned right. Nichols followed. They walked past various frosted-glass paneled doors, their gilt lettering announcing the various business offices along the hallway. Behind those doors the rooms were dark, except for one at the end of the hallway, on the right. The gold lettering on that door said New York Globe in bold letters. The door was ajar.
They stopped in front of that door. Ligotti was about to knock.
“Come in, John.”
It was a distinctive voice, not too high, not too low, that carried through the heavy oak and thick frosted glass of the door, inviting them in. The detective pushed the door open all the way and he and Nichols entered the office.
“Officer Nichols,” said Ligotti, “let me introduce you to Paul Gothico, the man who helps the New York City Police Department with its more WTF problems.”
Paul Gothico smiled and held out his hand. Nichols didn’t notice it. All her attention was focused on his six feet and four inches height. She was six feet herself but he seemed to tower over her. She was mulling over why she could not tell from his clean shaven complexion what nationality he was or even what race for that matter. That bothered her. His brown hair was cut short and tight. Her gut said he was Italian, but she couldn’t put her finger on why her gut said that. His voice held no trace of an accent she could pinpoint. His vivid green eyes looking at her from above those boardwalk shoulders and mountain of a chest made her more frustrated. She was better than good at sizing up people, but she could not size him up. Not even a little.
“Hang around him long enough,” said Ligotti, “and you’ll understand why his relationship with us is quaintly known as the “Keep It Lost and Don’t Find It Department.”
She inhaled and held it. Held it. Held it. Then let it out slowly. And forgot all about that cup of coffee she needed only a short while ago.
Gothico took Nichols’ hand and shook it, then turned to Ligotti. “You sounded more serious than usual on the phone. What’s up?”
“Something I think even you haven’t seen before. We need to go downtown. If we hustle we can beat the snowstorm.”
“All right. I’ll get my coat.”
Ligotti headed into the hallway while Gothico reached for his tan trench coat that had been tossed onto the worn Chesterfield couch, among the books and magazines littered over its cushions. Her mind still digesting everything without results, her attention had moved to a large painting on the wall directly behind the larger desk standing opposite the door. Spillage from the couch had found its way to that desk, but aside from the books and magazines, there were numerous statues and odd tchotchkes, some reasonably familiar, others not so much, piled on to it. All around the desk, paintings, mezzotints, lithographs, photographs, and movie theater posters, all painstakingly framed, covered the walls almost completely. Were the room alive it would be gasping for air. It did seem alive, Nichols mused. A feeling came to her that she was being watched. Curiouser and curiouser, she joked to herself. Her eyes were pulled back to the painting. There was something about it her finger was aiming to put a fingerprint on.
“That one’s called The First Prayer in Congress,” said Gothico, noting her fascination. Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia, 1774. Jacob Duche, rector of Christ Church graced the assembly with a prayer to open the session. It was a promising time. You can see every man in it is either bowing his head and kneeling or looking up towards heaven seeking spiritual guidance for the great task lying ahead.”
She nodded. “Now I’d think they’d be seeking forgiveness.”
Gothico smiled. “There’s that, too.”
As she looked deeper into the picture, one tall figure stood out among the others. A man who was not kneeling or praying, standing in the background. He looked familiar but shadow covered most of him. She inhaled and held her breath, then glanced at Gothico, then back at the painting. Another intake of air was imminent. If she asked now, she may not like the answer. She did not ask.
Ligotti stepped back into the room and tapped her on the shoulder. “I know. It can wait. Let’s beat that snowstorm.”
She exhaled, hesitated for a second, then nodded and took a step toward the door. Gothico’s hand wrapped firmly around her arm and pulled her back. She looked at him. He likes Old Spice aftershave she noted.
“Wait.” Gothico seemed to be listening. His eyes were staring into the hallway.”
Now it was Ligotti’s turn to hold his breath. He knew that tone. They waited.
A rush of cold air and a fragrance of mimosa wafted into the office.
“Don’t move,” said Gothico. “Stay within this room.” They froze and looked through the open door. And waited. The lights in the hallway went out.
The smell of mimosa grew stronger. A rustling, like dried leaves scraping across a sidewalk, could be heard, growing louder as it came towards them.
“Carpeting wouldn’t make that sound,” said Ligotti. “Normally.”
“You won’t need that,” said Gothico to Nichols.
She loosened her grip on her gun holster, but only a little. She would be the judge of what was needed or not.
The sound stopped. The fragrance of mimosa grew overpowering. Nichols brushed the tip of her nose. Her nostrils were starting to burn a little. She noticed Ligotti was brushing his nose, too.
Something unseen thumped hard against the door frame with a loud bang. Ligotti jumped back, but only a step. Nichols instinctively drew her gun and pointed it at nothing she could see through the open doorway. “What the hell is going on?” she said without raising her voice. Gothico admired her composure.
“It can’t get in,” he assured her.
“What can’t get in?” asked Nichols, her voice still composed, if a bit more concerned.
“Whatever’s trying to get in, I’d say,” replied Gothico.
She glanced at Ligotti with a what-have-you-gotten-me-into look. He smiled and nodded. She relaxed a bit, but only a bit.
Another, stronger, thump against the door frame made the room shake that time. Suddenly, the lintel, sill, and jamb of the doorway began glowing with red symbols. Another thump and the symbols increased their intensity in response. Faster and stronger thumps shook the walls, the floor, but the symbols continued to pulsate in response, now alternating their intensity among themselves with every assault. Some even seemed to grow larger, brighter, while others turned shades of gold, yellow, and green.
Then it fell silent. The overpowering burn of mimosa on her nostrils was making Nichol’s eyes water. The glowing symbols went dim and winked once or twice before going out completely. The mimosa subsided. Nichols brushed her nose one last time.
Gothico, seemingly unconcerned, turned his attention to his desk to right a few tchotchkes that had fallen over. He frowned when he saw that many of his prints and paintings would also need straightening.
Nichols holstered her gun and looked at Ligotti. Seeing he was not relaxing his posture too much, she did not either. Another sound could be heard coming down the hallway. It was someone yelling, and it grew louder and more desperate, but still with a quality like it was coming over a great distance.
“That sounds like Pinters voice,” said Ligotti, stepping toward the door.
A hand gripped his arm and held him back. It was Gothico. Nichols did not even see his motion from the desk to Ligotti’s side. She made another mental note: he moves damn fast.
The yelling voice flew past the open door and trailed off into silence.
Ligotti turned to Gothico and Nichols. “I left him with the forensics team at the crime scene at 14 W.10th Street about an hour ago, to come here and get you,” said Ligotti.
“The House of Death.” It was a statement from Gothico, not a question. He was not happy Ligotti mentioned that address.
Nichols turned to Gothico, saw the look on Ligotti’s face, then decided her first question could wait. She asked her second question instead.
“Did it say what I think I heard it say?” asked Nichols.
“Yes,” said Gothico.
“It’s not a fucking mop,” said Ligotti. “He was yelling ‘it’s not a fucking mop.’”
“Okay, that’s what I thought I heard it say, too” said Nichols.
They turned to Gothico. He shrugged and forced a smile. “Welcome to the Keep It Lost and Don’t Find It Department, Officer Penny Nichols. We better get moving. We’ll talk on the way. It looks like we’re in for one hell of a storm.”
Next Month! Episode 2: The Blasted Thing
Copyright 2016, JM Cozzoli. No rip-offs allowed. Agents, feel free to contact me.