Friday, March 4, 2011

"The Sign of the Fourth" A Sherringford Bell Story by: Ken Janssens

"The Sign of the Fourth"
A Sherringford Bell Story
by: Ken Janssens

as published in PRO SE PRESENTS Fantasy & Fear #3 

          There were two things that I was very passionate about. The first was the Washington Nationals. There’s nothing like smelling the cherry blossoms planted at Nationals Park as you take in a night of America’s only real gentleman’s sport. It didn’t matter how inept they were season after season; I still loved my adopted baseball team. The second thing I was passionate about was my work. What we did, Sherringford and I, there might not be anything more important in this world. We tracked down the demonically possessed, and usually we sent the monsters back to the hell they came from. But, for today, that would have to wait.
          “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” screamed the pool boy as droplets of water splashed against his bare chest. To the casual observer that just walked into the situation, they would have thought that the tightened ropes that bound the Native American teen to the top of a dining room table would be what caused him pain. They would be incorrect.
          “This will only hurt worse and worse until you decide to talk,” I warned him. The warnings rarely work. Looking around the room, it was obvious that my surroundings were not meant for such things. Though I didn’t know what kind of price tag some of these pieces of furniture and immaculately decorated dishware came with, I was sure that I couldn’t afford a single one of them on my priest’s salary. Not that I cared about such things. It was just that, even though I had eaten in the Hopes’ dining room several times before, this was the first time I thought about the value of its inanimate objects.
          “You’re torturing the wrong man,” yelled the pool boy, spit flying out of his mouth. “This is what he wants. Not me.” It was difficult to look into his red eyes while he screeched and thrashed about.
          “Don’t flatter by calling yourself a man, demon,” I proclaimed. “And regardless if it was this pool boy here who wanted to abduct the children, you had no problem helping him out.”
          “Hah,” the pool boy sneered gleefully. “Well, we have a partnership. And I won’t rat on my partner.”
“How noble,” I sighed. As I turned away, I heard him giggle like a child. A very, very scary child.
          I opened the sliding dining room doors, beautifully made of oak with four-by-two fogged windows in the center of each. Closing them behind me, I strode towards the living room to inform the three anxious people within of the lack of developments.
          “Has he told you where he took my children?!!” panicked Kila, the Inuit housekeeper of the mansion. She was in her late thirties to early forties but the stress she had gone under over the last twelve hours made her look a good decade older. On either side of her on the deer-skin couch were the owners of the abode: Jane and Trevor Hope. Like me, the Hopes were originally from the African continent. Unlike me, they had come over to the States as infants and spoke without an ‘accent’ or any traits that would betray their origin. Trevor was quite a few inches shorter than me with slightly-lighter skin. Jane’s, however, was even darker than mine and she was closer to my six-foot-two height. She had a playful habit of standing on her tiptoes during our conversations. This time, when she rose up with Trevor and Kila, she remained on her heels.
          “I am sorry, Kila,” I apologized, placing my right hand on her shoulder. “The pool boy, or rather the demon within, has let a few things slip from his foul mouth but not enough to locate your loved ones yet.”
With that, Kila broke down into a sobbing fit of near hysteria. She fell into Trevor’s arms so he lowered her back to the sofa to console her. Jane’s kind eyes looked down at her employee and friend then returned to mine to conduct the delicate business at hand.
          “Maybe you can call your friend again,” the swan-like goddess suggested. “We haven’t heard from him in awhile.”
          “I can try him, Jane,” I offered as I pulled my cell phone out of my jeans pocket, “but despite the fact he is a truly brilliant man, with the little information we have, there is no real chance that he could have located your maid’s children.”
          I pressed the emergency button on the phone and the dialing pulse thudded in my ear. A click indicated that the receiver had answered the call. It was not 911. My emergency contact was Dr. Sherringford Bell.
          “How is the search going?” I asked.
          “Paul?” came the huffing sound of my partner over the line. “You do have a knack of calling at the most inopportune times.”
          “Have you gotten a lead?”
          I could hear a loud crack on the phone followed instantly by a muffled, guttural spurt of swears. I didn’t recognize it to be Sherringford’s voice.
          “Oooph!” the former government agent expelled. I heard a couple more smacks and since I didn’t hear his cell drop, realized that he had his earpiece in. “If by ‘lead’ you mean have I found three of the four children and am I currently battling the pool boy’s siblings to save all our lives while you distract me with your surely-can-wait questions...”
          The frightened yelling of children was faintly evident in the background. A loud snap overtook their cries as did another unfamiliar holler of agony. I presumed that Sherringford had just taken out a knee or an elbow.
          “...Then I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Sherringford finished his deadpan.
          “Fantastic,” I enthused as all three pairs of living room eyes were focused on my phone call. “Have you contacted the police for assistance?”
          “Paul?” Sherringford said as I heard an exchange of punches.
          “Shut up.”
          The remaining event was narrated to me by my partner later. Since Sherringford was not prone to inaccuracies, I took his story as the actual, factual occurrences. His battleground had been a deserted section of bank on the Anacostia River under a bridge. When he had told me to ‘shut up’, Sherringford had been knocked backwards and to the ground by the tallest of the siblings, his hat flying off his head as he was struck. It was quite incredible how long his fedora could remain on during a fight. What was more amazing is how he didn’t die of heat exhaustion dressed in his usual attire of pinstripe suit and trench coat.
          Dustin, the tall Powhatan, was instantly hovering over Sherringford. As he brought down his heel towards his opponent’s throat, Sherringford was able to block the death blow with his walking stick. The stick—which he kept on hand as an inconspicuous weapon (Sherringford had no walking impediment)—cracked almost entirely in half, held together by a thin piece of walnut veneer. Using it as a wood nunchuck imitation, my partner was able to twist the native’s foot and get him off balance.
          Though Sherringford was able to get to his feet, he received two more fists to the face followed by a backhand that sent him flying once again. With the now totally-severed walking stick halves out of his grip, he scanned the grounds for an advantage. It came in the form of a rusted, four-prong tire iron to his right. Diving for the instrument, Sherringford grasped it then flung it at Dustin. The iron connected with Dustin’s face, causing blood to spew out of his nose as his head lurched back.
          That was the second nose he had broken in so many minutes. The first was of Leonard, the shorter, squatter brother of the pool boy. The one who had the broken elbow and a switchblade. The one that was suddenly back into the fight. With his knife swinging, Leonard lunged at Sherringford. He should have stayed down. Leaping high into the air, Sherringford’s knee joined locations with Leonard’s chin. The squat native dropped to the gravelly earth, unconscious.
          The conflict was not over. Dustin, now with the tire iron as his tool, ran at Sherringford. The ex-FBI man somersaulted towards Dustin, acquired one of the halves of his walking stick during his tumble, then sprung up. Before the tall Powhatan could strike with his weapon, Sherringford impaled him through the shoulder with his. The tire iron plummeted to the ground as Dustin contemplated the idea of blacking out. Sherringford pulled the tall man’s arm behind him to slap on some cuffs. He was just able to do so before the abject torment took away Dustin’s ability to stand. He contorted sporadically in a puddle while dipping in and out of oblivion.
          “Okay, children,” I heard Sherringford resume talking. The fight was clearly over. “Let’s get you out of these binds.”
          “Paul, I am under the 12th Street Bridge, north of the Anacostia.” I could hear three distinct children’s voices beyond Sherringford’s. I knew that they were all right and sighed. Kila awaited my words on bated breath. Sherringford continued. “Don’t call the police. We will lose our advantage if you do. Call my sister. Tell her we need a couple of men held for now. Tell her that medical attention will be necessary.”
          “Of course,” I said, Kila almost bursting with anticipation. “Any sign of the fourth child?”
          “Get back here, you little fiend.”
          “Sherringford, what’s happening?” I responded to his ominous phrase. Suddenly, a hideous scream permeated through my phone, so deafening that the Hopes and Kila could hear it.
          “As soon as I untied the eldest boy, he grabbed a long shard of glass out of some trash and jammed it into one of his kidnapper’s wounds,” my partner related then turned his attention back to the boy. “Get back over here!”
          “Sherringford, is there any sign of the fourth?”
          “No. I will meet you back at the Hope Estate with the kids.”
          “Okay. By the way, you’re disgustingly proud of the boy, aren’t you?” I knew Sherringford’s mindset.
          “I’m clicking off my earpiece now.” he said.
          I’ve mentioned my passions but as for what Sherringford is passionate about, I couldn’t really say. The work we did satisfied the curiosity that nagged at him, that’s true, but did he show passion? No. He had been a forensic psychologist for the FBI but the way he talks about it, it had been extremely boring.
There just seemed to be an emotional void within.
          I didn’t want to disparage Sherringford by saying he had no heart. No one truly knew what lies within any human. But I had never seen him relaxed and when he seldom smiled, it was a devious smirk or a knowing grin. And as for a romantic interest, not a single one that I knew of. He displayed nothing to me. He hinted nothing to anyone.
          Kila grabbed the lapels of my collarino. I held her cheeks in my hand as I gave her the bittersweet news.
          “Dr. Bell has found three of your four children,” I related.
          “Oh, thank you, thank you. He is a great man.” Kila’s waterfall of tears started anew.
          “Make sure not to tell him that when he gets back,” I mused.
          “Back?” Kila asked with confusion. “He isn’t out looking for my other child?”
          “Which one is still missing?” Jane jumped in.
          “I don’t know,” I admitted.
          “You should go wait by the front for them to arrive, Kila,” Trevor instructed.
          “Yes, of course. Yes. Thank you, Father.
          “You are quite welcome,” I meekly responded. Kila ran away. Once her footsteps had faded, I got into a more in-depth conversation with the Hopes.
          “If the fourth child wasn’t with the others or the kidnappers, the odds are the child is dead, right?”
          “Jane, I will not lie to you. That is probably the case.”
          “What’s the next step, Father Anyogu?” Trevor wanted to know. “Do we call the cops? Are we going to untie that monster from atop our dining room table?”
          “Sherringford says no police so we go with that and see what he wants to do once he arrives. The best you can do now is pray for your maid’s family now. I will lead if you’d like.”
          “Please, Father.”
          “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be...”

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