Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pulp Ark 2011 Spotlight - Ken Janssens's "Studyin‘ Scarlett"

Ken Janssens's
"Studyin‘ Scarlett"
was nominated for "Best Short Story"
at this year's Pulp Ark.
"Studyin‘ Scarlett"
was published in
PRO SE PRESENTS Fantasy and Fear #2 

My name is Paul Anyogu. I was born in the Anambra state of Nigeria. My dark complexion and Igbo accent will attest to that. Having lived in my downtrodden, but happy, Roman Catholic community for thirtyfour years, I decided to move to the United States. Frankly, I can no longer remember the reason I left Nigeria. I can, however, say why I stayed. I had met a young man named Sherringford Bell, but my interests in him are not for the reasons one might suspect in these modern times. At our first encounter, he was a forensic psychologist. It was through this seemingly miserable yet always curious fellow that I found my true calling—a calling that brought us to Rance-Beeton Dynamics.
The buzzing electronics and blinking lights of the security office couldn’t distract me from what I was seeing on the ten-by-seventeen monitor. The screen was replaying footage taped by a security camera from the night before. The main focus was a figure in the middle of a laboratory of some sort, his body covered completely by a dark red cloak. All around him on the floor was a spanning pentagram etched in chalk, with a burning candle in the center. Though the footage was not accompanied by sound, the flailing hand movements of the individual suggested some kind of performance, possibly an incantation. Funnelling out of his over-sized sleeves came two sprays of sand that sprinkled over the candle, causing a great plume of smoke. The cloud billowed in on itself then rose up toward the camera. At the last second before it disappeared, I could have sworn I saw a disfigured face in the smoke.
“If I’m truly seeing what I believe I am,” I said as the recording stopped abruptly, “I’d say our services are quite needed, Sherringford.”
“If it is, then that would be a rather obvious deduction. Thank you,” Sherringford dismissed glancing up since I was a good eight inches taller than him. Sherringford was in his usual ‘pleasant’ mood. A person didn’t even have to speak to him to know that they wouldn’t enjoy his company. Not including his nearly ever-present sour expression, Sherringford always dressed in a suit with a dark fedora; had greasy, limp, shoulder-length hair, and carried around a walking stick that he didn’t need for walking. I have heard his appearance referred to as a ‘Grunge Pimp’, though I, myself, really do not get the reference. Despite his off putting demeanor, Sherringford Bell took really good care of himself, working out constantly to attain a ‘swimmer’s body’. His physical conditioning was almost as important to him as the exercises he did for his mind.
There were two other men in the darkened room with us. The bespectacled man operating all the computers and electronics went by the name Tommy. He wore a grin on his face and constantly eyed Sherringford. The other gentleman was Mister Tambryn, who exuded an air of authority, stemming from his expensive suit to the rigidity of his posture. He was nearly bald with a tuft of hair on the top at which I couldn’t help stare. My nearly six-and-a-half foot vantage point was not helping the obsession.
“It’s a freakin’ spirit conjured up by that man,” gushed Tommy, with a sort of childish presentation that contrasted against his forty years of age.  
“Quite frankly,” Sherringford started up, “with the subpar reception, we can’t be sure exactly what that was. All your other monitors seem to have a clear picture. Why is that?”
“This is the third unauthorized entry into a secured area—after hours—that we’ve had in the last two weeks,” Mister Tambryn explained confidently. “On Tuesday, we decided to put hidden cameras inside all our laboratories to find the culprit. We still haven’t worked the static kinks out of that camera yet.”
“Of course,” Sherringford mused. “And you believe this to be…?”
“We’ve looked over it for, like, twenty times,” Tommy squealed “Clearly it is a demonic ceremony that produced an evil spirit.”
“‘Clearly’ is a bit of an exaggeration,” I retorted, instantly hating that I had assumed some of Sherringford’s curtness.
“I agree,” remarked Mister Tambryn. “That’s why you’re here. So what do you think is going on?”
“You’ll need to answer some of my questions before I will yours,” my partner demanded without regard for how it was received. “First: one to satisfy my curiosity. How did you learn about us? We’re not a service that’s listed in any phone book.”
“That would be through Tommy here.”
“I’m actually a mondo fan of yours,” Tommy beamed.
“A fan?” Sherringford half sneered.
“Yeah,” Tommy continued with excitement. “I saw you once outside my apartment. It was quite… well, amazing, actually. You were in this fight with these two burly guys. I don’t know if you were using Ju-Jitsu or what. Coolest thing, though, dude. You kicked some ass. Kept your fedora on the whole time, too. After that, I did a lot of research on you. I collected any news article or photo I could find. Though, there ain’t much out there.”
“There’s a reason for that,” commented Sherringford.
“What’s that?” Tommy asked.
“I should think the answer to that would be obvious. So ‘fans’ like you can’t find me.”
Tommy’s face dropped as his idol belittled him. Sherringford took no notice of his dismay and manipulated the computer to replay the grainy footage once more. He studied it, placing his finger up to silence Mister Tambryn every time he tried to recommence the conversation. Once Sherringford was done taking the footage in for the second time, he turned to Mister Tambryn and allowed him to speak. Mister Tambryn pretended not to feel slighted as he said, “Doctor Bell, Tommy says that you work for the FBI.”
“Not anymore,” Sherringford simply replied. “Now I assume, to get into these rooms, an individual needs to have a key card.
“Yes, like this one,” Mister Tambryn said while extracting a credit-card-sized, white passkey. “The computer said it belonged to Terry Ruggins. He has been sick with mono for the last three weeks. He still had his original card at home with him. It must have been cloned somehow and then that clone was used here.”
Sherringford grabbed the card from Mister Tambryn and analyzed it quickly. He then dropped it back in his hand as if it was a discarded napkin he had no more use for. “Rance-Beeton is a weapons contractor working for the government, correct? Why not use our ‘fantastic’ rulers’ near-infinite resources to handle this?”
“We had a major breach of security last year concerning some terrorists trying to tamper with our tech,” Mister Tambryn admitted, showing a hint of humility for the first time. “If the government became aware of another sabotage attempt—and of this nature—I’m afraid our contract would be…”
“Say no more,” Sherringford interrupted. “Now, we’re going to need full access to your video footage and your employee files. Will that be a problem?” It wasn’t. It never is. When a person acquires the services of Sherringford and myself, they have pretty much prepared themselves to hand the situation completely over to us. They can’t truly understand what we do. And, honestly, it is better for their sanity that they stay as uninvolved as possible.
For the rest of the day, we did the detective work. I say ‘we’ but for the most part I sat back and let Sherringford do what he does best: watch and learn. We sat with Tommy for awhile as we went through more footage, not only from last night but anything that had been the slightest bit out of the ordinary. We followed that up by strolling down hallways and common areas, like lunchrooms and such, trying to briefly examine every employee of Rance-Beeton Dynamics. Not an easy task, when that number reaches over eight-hundred people. We finished the night by going through employee files and every garbage can on or nearby the complex.
On the outside looking in, it might seem mundane—the analyzing, the interviewing… the downtime—but once the final act begins, it’s best for the average person to stay far, far away.

No comments:

Post a Comment