Death is not an alibi.
There are laws that even the dead must obey: no hijacking the bodies of the living, no possessing the dead… and never speak of the Dark.
It’s the job of police exorcist Arphallo Sirus and his murdered partner, Sam Trent, to enforce these laws. No one ever said working the Dead Beat was easy, but now it’s become nearly impossible as the ghosts and the living alike tear the worlds apart in search of answers to the mysteries of life, death and what lies beyond.
The Dead Beat is a short story serial.
The Restless and the Wicked
“I’ve got him heading up Fourth Avenue. Red convertible, top down.”
“Don’t they always? The dead want to feel alive.”
“Do you think he can feel it at all? It’s fucking cold out tonight.”
“Come on, cut it out,” said a third voice, crackling over the radio. “Sam’s on this channel, you know. Show some respect for the dead.”
Another voice answered. “It’s fine. I’m not that sensitive, kids. But shut the hell up. We’ve got a job to do.”
“Yes, sir,” said the first voice. “Okay, he’s just turned down Southerton.”
“Good. Hit the lights and let’s bring him in,” Sam said. “Are you ready, Arph?”
Sergeant Gray was right. It was cold. Police Exorcist Arphallo Sirus flexed his fingers in his gloves. The black leather creaked quietly across his knuckles. His breath steamed and glowed ethereally in the city nightlight.
Arphallo’s partner stood beside him, as still as a statue. PE Sam Trent didn’t shiver and didn’t blink. He was in his early twenties, several years younger than Arphallo. In one respect, at least. There was no cloud of breath coming from Sam’s lips and the swirling wind didn’t stir his white-blond hair.
“Here he comes,” Sam said. “Can you feel it, Arph?”
“Yeah,” Arphallo answered.
He could feel it, like a raindrop rolling down his spine. The sensation was not necessarily unpleasant, but certainly unsettling. Arphallo flexed his fingers again, nervously twisting the silvery thread between them.
The rush and rustle of traffic rose to a shriek as a bright red convertible screamed around the corner, scattering honking, shouting motorists before it. Two black squad cars chased close behind. Tires and brakes screeched. Their flashing lights and howling sirens turned the cold city street into a mad nightclub scene.
“Now.” Sam looked at him. “Now, Arph!”
Arphallo jerked his splayed fingers. The silver wire stretched between them into an elongated six-pointed star. Arphallo twisted the center of the star and silver shined in the moonlight. The lights of the city dimmed and everything seemed to slow to an icy trickle. Arphallo could count his racing heartbeats.
The bright red car fishtailed wildly and screeched to a stop. A young, dark man with wild hair jumped out of the driver’s seat, holding his head and stumbling toward the waiting police. Sam stepped in front of the man and flashed his polished pentagram badge.
“Kincaid Perth, you are illegally skin-riding,” he announced. “You have violated the word of Anat-Sin and the laws of the Light. Abandon this body at once and return to the Dark.”
“Fuck you, man!” Kincaid shouted. He shook his head, trying to clear away the shrill ringing that Arphallo knew was making his whole skull throb. “I need this ride!”
“You want a body? Then you make the same deal as the rest of us,” Sam said coldly.
Kincaid spun to bolt the other direction, but the police cars had pulled around and blocked off his escape. Four officers crouched behind the black and white doors. The cops’ hands hovered over their guns, every one packed with silver and bone. But those weapons were a last resort. They had to wait for Arphallo’s signal before they could risk the life of the human host.
Kincaid could feel the silver, though. He spat another obscenity and tried to shove past Sam. Kincaid’s body was stronger and much larger than either of the exorcists. Sam grabbed him by the shoulder and jammed a knee into the back of the man’s thigh.
“Salt him!” Sam shouted.
Arphallo dropped the silver wire and reached into his coat for the salt. It was as fine and white as the best cocaine. And twice as expensive, shipped in from the Red Sea and ground at noon in a bowl of willow heartwood. The sealed plastic cylinder almost slipped through Arphallo’s gloved fingers, but he tightened his grip and slammed the salt canister up into a rubber-gripped nebulizer.
Kincaid pitched forward, off-balance, and pulled Sam down with him. The two dead men struggled on the asphalt. Punches flew and the pair rolled across the ground. Sam grabbed and Kincaid twisted, driving his knee up into the cop’s chest.
“Get out of the way, Sam!” Arphallo shouted.
Sam was still tangled with Kincaid and grunting with the effort of maintaining his hold.
“Just do it,” he said. “Salt him!”
“Do it, Arph!”
Arphallo lunged in and grabbed a handful of Kincaid’s thick hair, but the man pulled away with a violent jerk. Sam wedged his forearm under Kincaid’s chin and forced his head back. Arphallo pulled on the nebulizer’s trigger and sprayed the fine white salt full into Kincaid’s face. It stood out starkly against the body’s dark skin.
Kincaid stopped struggling and splayed suddenly spread-eagle across the ground as though staked out there. Most of the salt had hit its intended target, but some of it had sifted through the air like fine snow. Sam’s eyes rolled wildly and he lurched to one side. His whole body stiffened, but Arphallo had no time to worry about him right now. The exorcist pressed the palm of his glove – studded and stitched with silver runes – against Kincaid’s brow.
“Maliki n’nas,” Arphallo invoked.
Kincaid’s spine arched and he let out an ethereal scream, eerie and inhuman, like the wind howling through skeletal trees. Then the body went limp and flopped to the asphalt. A colorless shadow rose up from the deserted puppet. It loomed over Arphallo, eclipsing stars and city lights.
And then it was gone, vanished into the Dark.
Arphallo whistled and gestured to the other cops. They rushed forward, speaking quickly into boxy black radios. They would take care of the man who had been Kincaid Perth’s unwilling host. Arphallo rushed to his partner’s side.
“Sam? Hey, Sam, are you okay?” he asked.
The other man’s brown eyes were unfocused, searching wildly. He stared at Arphallo. His voice was small and frightened.
“Exorcist Sirus, I… I was…”
Arphallo leaned close, trying to catch the words, but they were lost in the loud sounds of the city. The other man broke off, gasping. His eyes rolled back and then snapped shut. When they opened again, Sam stared quite calmly up at Arphallo.
“Did you get that little prick, Arph?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, Sam. I got him,” Arphallo said.
“What about the host? Is the guy injured?”
Arphallo shrugged. He didn’t know.
Sam stood, a little wobbly at first, but quickly regained his balance. He thumped the heel of his hand against his chest.
“Fit and young, just the way I like them,” Sam said. He turned to talk to the other officers. “Hey, Sergeant Gray, how’s the puppet?”
“Minor injuries, but he’s coming around,” Gray said. “We’ll get his statement at the hospital.”
Sam jogged over to the dazed man as the cops helped him to his feet. Arphallo watched his partner go. Sam was a good cop, one of the best working the Dead Beat, as the others called it. He was brave and self-sacrificing, if sometimes a little crude.
Death had that effect, sometimes.
Arphallo slipped his hands back into his pockets and followed Sam.
Published 09.20.2011 by Loose Leaf Stories