by Jody Smith
The face in the casket was at ease, but it wasn’t exactly correct. The mortician was an artist, a master. Inigo had the urge to poke…that flesh, not exactly looking dead, and yet was undeniably dead. A shame, no matter how skilled the mortician, no matter how alive the person looked, they were still dead dead dead.
Gwen was a gentle soul and a very good woman; one who deserved a better casket than Inigo could afford, but that was life. That was death.
Inigo brushed a finger on the satin lining and then to his sister’s cheek. His hand came away and made a fist. A scream boiled up his throat from the blackened depths of his soul. The mortician covered the ligature marks from the rope she’d hanged herself with, but Inigo saw them. It was as if they glowed.
Not another minute could he stand it. Through the crowded bodies in their Sunday best, tissues in hands, expressions broken somewhere between sad and devastated, Inigo stomped old shoes give one latch chance with thanks to more than a dollop of polish. Nobody stopped him. He was hotheaded, always had been. There was steam to blow off, and better outside than inside.
From so so deep Inigo burned, vapor escaped invisibly from his ears, nose, and mouth. Molten lava traversed his veins. As he stepped out of the funeral home and looked at his hands, he was genuinely surprised he hadn’t lit on fire.
This couldn’t sit. There was no way that bastard was going to get away with it. It wasn’t the old days. The world was modern and demanded modern humanity.
Gwen didn’t deserve to feel the way she had and didn’t deserve to feel the only way to live with what she’d done was to die. Inigo did not blame her for what had happened, none of the family did.
That snake sonofabitch…
Bolt cutters retrieved from the back of his yellow, eight-year-old F-250 truck. There was a sticker on the door—Alvarez Landscaping—now a meaningless bit of graffiti, a tattoo of an ex-wife and lover. Inigo brought the tool’s teeth onto the bank’s chain. Bank of America had let him retrieve his books and a laptop, all else was up for auction. The gates swung inward and Inigo rolled over the gravel lot, past the painfully overgrown grass, and to his former office.
The bank changed the lock.
“Think so?” Inigo said and took a step back, giving his heel a little more space to do a magic trick on the lock.
The door swung with a crack. That trailer was to be temporary. Sunlight played through dust motes in swarms, as if put emphasis on the shitiness. He’d torn down the old building and had a crew already laying the foundation for the new site of his life’s work. Alvarez Landscaping had been a business that got by, and then some, for years. Inigo earned enough that he’d lent his sister tuition for the chance of a lifetime. The family agreed, though all wondered why Gwen?
Why had this school sought her out, seemingly personally, as if targeting.
Out of all the smart and budding people of America, why this illegal immigrant?
Gwen shined when she spoke of her future. She’d be smart and soon she’d be the one carrying the family. Her enthusiasm was infectious and Inigo scrounged together tuition.
And then some.
The school needed more money to continue her education. Always more and more, it seemed. Inigo was blind to the golden shine that became Gwen’s smile. Blind to Gwen’s failings, which in-turn took advantage of his failings.
Gwen was gullible and slow by average standards, shy to a fault. And still, she got the gull and took her chance to pay her brother back with a business connection she’d made through the school. Mr. Spade had shown up at Spade University, quietly entering through the back, not far from where Gwen snuck outside to smoke. Shy Gwen had a beast climb up her neck and take over her body and stepped to the flashy man in his somewhat clumsy black suit. She went into great detail about Alvarez Landscaping, which was not only a really fantastic company, but also run by the best brother a girl could have, his big heart covered her sixty-grand in tuition.
Spade waved her away, but accepted a card. Gwen was so embarrassed she did not tell a soul, not until Inigo took a call. The big man on the line: “I have a tremendous opportunity for you.”
There were big plans for six new resorts. The first was only half an hour north of the city proper and the last landscape company had crapped out. Inigo jumped at the job—it was huge and huge meant lucrative.
Six months into the effort, two weeks ahead of schedule, Inigo found himself on the wrong end of supplies and labor-hours paid from his business credit. After that initial phone call, Spade had delegated communication with Alvarez Landscaping to an underling.
“Mr. Spade is not happy and does not pay for shoddy work. The guards know your vehicles. They’ll remove you forcefully if they have to. Anything you think you can do, Mr. Spade can do tenfold, remember that.”
Her words sank like a stone in his guts and were perhaps the grain that set him to boil. They came back to him nearly daily since Gwen took her life because Alvarez Landscaping went bust on her contact.
“You’ve already taken your tenfold,” Inigo mumbled as he dug into the bottom drawer of his desk—dusty and clear but for a coffee mug and the paperwork trays. “There you are.”
Dirty Harry had been a favorite of Inigo and he’d held and tested the weight of a .44 Magnum, but then tried to imagine hefting it from his bottom drawer in an emergency. Not so good. So, he’d settled for a Beretta 9mm.
That 9mm was was righteous, as if gifted from the heavens to perform this task.
“You’ll come out of that tower eventually,” Inigo said and stood. “And I’ll be…” he trailed, that heat inside was boiling up his throat.
The trailer rattled. The desk bounced. The mug fell to the floor. Inigo held his arms out as if surfing. Everything shook when the floor opened next to the filing cabinets revealing a reddish glow. The photographs of past jobsites vibrated and the steel coatrack tumbled. Flames leapt upward. The heat in the trailer intensified.
Rising like a wrestler making a ring entrance from below the matted floor. Deep red horns appeared first, horrid wavy things with living tattoos burned throughout. Deep below, visions of beasts committing torture. Inigo felt lightheaded and terrified, but understood that he’d baked this situation in his core. This was his hot hot fury. A wide head came into view. Deep crimson, its face shaped like a quarter moon. Wet black eyes and lips. Black hair coated the shoulders and arms, down to the fingernails. Climbing higher, legs and hooves.
Inigo knew this beast.
The floor began to close beneath this interloper.
Inigo stumbled backward. “El Diablo,” he hissed.
“Please, we’re in America. Speak ‘Merican,” Satan said.
Inigo remained silent.
The floor had remolded beneath the beast and Satan folded its skinny, hairy arms over a shrimpy chest. “Nothing to say? No worries, I’ve only stopped by to—”
Inigo broke for the door and was surprised when he not only made it out, but the beast in his office had permitted his leave unscathed. Into his truck and out of the lot, leaving a rolling dust cloud in his wake. The office door and the gates behind left yawning. He swiped an arm over his brow. His suit jacket was damp with sweat. There was a tickle in his wrist, hand in his lap. The gun was still in his grip. As if burned, he swatted out his hand and dropped the gun into the center console.
Inside the truck, the heat then rose drastically. He drove a seemingly aimless route, though toward the downtown core. Fresh sweat ran in rows on his face.
“That was rude, Inigo. I only came to say hello, to make an acquaintance. We’ll be seeing much of each other, soon enough. You invited me in, you just don’t know.”
Inigo shook his head and kept his eyes forward. Satan couldn’t be in his old truck. No way José.
Satan waited, watching New York City creep past the windows. People craned their necks at the work truck and the beastly little man in the passenger’s seat. Heads craned, but they’d all seen weird stuff, saw it almost daily.
“We should really talk some, get to know each other. I’ll start. My name’s Lucifer and I’m Lord of the Underworld. It wasn’t my plan, but it’s a living. We’re alike, you know? I tried to go bigger than my britches and it cost me. Like you.”
An image of a fiery Gwen popped into Inigo’s mind. “Gwen, she’s not in Hell?”
“There’s my new pal. Sweet Gwen is someplace else. Where, who knows?” Satan spread those scrawny arms and additional heat filled the cab of the truck. The AC fought hard, but did little beyond creating condensation. “Anyway, I see you’re still going through with it and that’s good. I love murderers.”
Inigo swallowed a hard lump and realized he was no more than two blocks from Spade’s tower, almost by magic. Though that wasn’t quite it. His subconscious had lit the fire and it understood what needed to happen.
“Not murder, retribution. Eye for eye,” Inigo said and brushed his coat sleeve on the windshield, clearing the wet fog.
“That’s only if you’re a god. See, gods can murder and call it Jell-O, because there’s always room for Jell-O. Me, I embrace my nature, just like you will.”
Inigo could take no more and was suddenly close enough to understand that this plan had been brewing for a while, putting blocks together to climb over a wall. The tower had underground parking and Inigo dug beneath his Beretta for the card of Spade’s construction manager. The only hope would be that somehow the guard would miss the name on the truck.
He rolled down the window at the gate.
“Got a meeting with Mr. Banner,” Inigo said and handed out the card with a time and day written on the back. It was Thursday. The card read Thursday 3:00. It was fate that he hadn’t written the full date. Fate that Gwen’s funeral fell on a Thursday.
“Sure is and it’s your fate to spend your eternal afterlife burning with me. Don’t worry though, to quote Bowie, it’s only forever, not long at all,” Satan sang.
“What’s she talking about?” the guard asked.
“She?” Inigo turned to Satan.
The size of the arms and the gentle curve of the face remained, all else had changed. Blond hear tied in a ponytail, thin pink lips, pale blue eyes, and an expression that seemed equal parts dead and deadly. Satan had grown small breasts and hid them behind a blue herringbone jacket above a flat navy skirt.
“Ah, who cares; you immigrants are always on some bullshit,” the attendant said.
Inigo sneered—the white devils were everywhere.
“Have a good day!” Satan waved a slender hand, nails painted in a flat blue tone. Satan then pointed out the windshield, through the fog. “Best place for you to wait. There, by the limo next to the elevator.”
Inigo parked and didn’t wait. He grabbed the door handle as he finally fully clued in; Satan meant an eternity in the real sense, something so vast that it went beyond all human understanding.
Gwen was gone.
Killing Spade would be an elixir for his heart, but what about his soul?
“Don’t second guess yourself now,” Satan said.
“I’m not…I’m just…”
“Look! There he is!”
Inigo saw. The puffed up, toupee-wearing conman shook hands with a group of gold-clad men in silky red headdresses wrapped with black ropes, and long white robes. Three of Spade’s men in three-piece suits stood around them smiling. Two more men stood by the limo, obvious security.
Inigo gripped his gun and stared at it two moments too long.
“Gwen?” he asked the sweltering ceiling of his truck.
No answer came to him, but the trade value wasn’t there. It couldn’t be. He wasn’t bringing Gwen back.
The gun dropped.
Satan laughed. “And you wonder why you get stomped on.”
Inigo gagged, felt the last of the heat come out him in deep brown bile that splashed and then dripped down his steering wheel and dashboard. Tears finally began to spill. His sister was dead dead. No bringing her back.
Satan opened the door and walked across the lot in the blue dress and pale white flesh, heels clopping, not exactly right. Those were animal clops, not simply pumps.
Inigo killed the engine and reached across the seat to close the passenger door. He then rolled down the window.
“Maryanne Fitzwilliam!” said one of Spade’s men. “You’ve met Ronald? No?”
Satan took Mr. Spade’s hands and shook, glancing back at Inigo and winking, lips moving, that feminine voice thrown through the truck’s stereo. “Wait a few years. It’s going to be huge. I’ll take you higher than you could imagine.”