ch 2, pt 4, The Amazing Billy Bayber (formatted version)
The night was cold and damp, rather lonely. Jazz came from the bars and mixed with the sound of rain-wet cars moving in traffic underneath illuminated street lamps. Soft piano melodies came from Hamptons on 5th Ave. Hard blues from The Crows. Contemporary acoustical from Sergei's. Downtown Kansas City was dreary and quiet at night, save for these melodies floating down the desolate streets amid tufts of steam rising from the manhole covers.
Astril Johnson sat in on a jam session tonight at Sergei's, unaware that Sergei had escaped from the hospital this evening and was, at this moment, en route to his restaurant. The girl was in her own world, seated on a bar stool, singing with her eyes closed and making up the words whenever the lyrics evaded her memory. Ever since reading about the assault in The Star she had agonized over the pain that he was undoubtedly suffering through since the assault occurred two weeks ago---just down the block. The papers suggested it, but his close friends and associates knew it to be true: the Italian patriarchies wanted Sergei Rostropovich destroyed.
At midnight the bar started to fill with a quiet, well-fed, post dinner crowd becoming increasingly interested in listening to music instead of chatting. The tables were small and round and were crowded close together with barely enough space for the waitresses to weave through as they served drinks and filled orders. The crowd was overly quiet due to the deeply introverted and cerebral way in which the jazz band played under the stage lights. Rootess a-harmonies. Stacked chords. E-flat major triad against the C7 of the sax, together forming C7#9. But there, exalted above the dry intellectualism, Astril's melodious voice understated the cryptic nature of the Rob Zombie lyrics.
"Body of a monkey and the feet of a cock,
Dragged from her home on the killing rock,
Black dog dying on the weather vain,
The Devil's in a cat and the baby's brain,"
A tall, squared-shouldered, well-built man in a trench coat entered the bar through the front door; his eyes obscured by aviation style sunglasses, a scarf covered his chin, and a wide brimmed Stetson hat on his head. Upon entering he obeyed the code of silence by quietly moving through the lounge, toward an employee-only door behind the bar top. Thinking it might be Sergei, her concentration waned and her voice trailed off into silence midway through the song.
"The mark of the wolf and the sign of the calf "
She unplugged the microphone by yanking the chord from the amplifier, then stepped down from her bar stool and wove through the tables between the bandstand and the employee-only door going back into the kitchen. The thought that it may be him caused her heart to pound in her chest and her astral sheath flared around her body producing bright red and crimson flashes. Her soul shared a psychic similarity with gaseous flames, blue in color, invested with sulfurous flakes of red and yellow, rising up where the restaurant chefs sweated over the gas grills. The tall, slim man, whom she followed, strode passed all the cooking stations without anyone ever once recognizing him or hearing him over the clanking of pots and pans and the bubbling of the deep fryer.
Astril stood in the kitchen entrance.
"Sergei, is that you?" she yelled.
In return the man made a curt gesture for her to follow, then continued walking as if totally unconcerned if she followed or not; it was him---mustache-less, yellow, sickly looking. And yet, despite his sickening appearance, Astril was tearful with happiness; her face blushed back to her ears and the veins in her neck swelled. In a rush of emotion, she followed him into the private reception room and observed how he kept his hat low and his eyes obscured even though the room was only half lit. Not until the last of the partiers had vacated the reception room did Sergei remove his sunglasses and push them into the deep front pocket of his trench coat, only for his hand to arise moments later from the same pocket, this time holding a special tool.
"What's that?" she asked, puzzled by his odd behavior.
Yet to acknowledge the girl, Sergei carried the small hand tool over to the ominous occult painting designed by his nephew Billy Bayber: the Pentakotic Gateway. It was hanging on the walnut paneled walls, by the walk-in humidor. This time she demanded an answer.
"Sergei, what's going on? Speak to me."
"This is just a wrench for security hangars," he said as he slid the tool behind the frame in the attempt to un-bolt the frame from the walnut paneled wall on which the painting was bolted, not hung.
"I'm not talking about the wrench, Sergei! What's going on with you? I thought you were in the hospital."
"I'm not anymore."
"Are you all right? You don't look well."
"That's because I'm not. I'm in quit a bit of discomfort right now, in fact. If you want to blow my brains out anytime, go ahead."
The moment her hand touched his shoulder the wild mix of colors swirling through her astral aura suddenly cleared; her aura assumed a spring-like clarity as she reflected her imaginative power upon the currents of thought imbuing his etheric Life Body. Touching him, it occurred to her that Sergei had escaped from the hospital, for he appeared too ill to be released by doctor's permission.
"I've gotta leave town," he said and crazily continued his attempts to undo the security bolt. His hands were shaking. "I'm taking my art with me, if I can. The things I've been through Astril! You'll never know. Have you heard from Billy?"
"No one's seen him. You're leaving?"
"Am I leaving?"
His tone suggested she was dull for merely asking. Consequently Astril grew quiet and gazed at the picture; it was brightened by the museum-style lamp. The all-seeing cataract gazed back at her from the top-center of the painting, atop a sinister triangle blazing in hellish fire; thousands of occult symbols filled the background in coded impulses. The first bolt came unscrewed and fell into the carpeting. Sergei didn't bother picking it up off the floor, but instead went over to the other side of the painting and started removing the opposite bolt. A crazy look was in his eyes.
"They trashed my apartment, Astril, and murdered my nurse. Astril, just go home. Finish your set, take a cab home, and go to sleep. The Serengeti Mafia is in a frenzy. They may have followed me here."
"I don't want to leave you. I don't want you to leave town. I want you to stay."
"Honey, I have to go. You know that. You're a bright girl. Just go home, won't you? Be a good girl and do what I say."
"I can't be of help in any way? Just let me help you."
He and Astril took the painting to the building's upper floors. On the way up the stairwell her worries were placated a little by knowing that he was armed with a .44 magnum, wedged at his waistline under his coat. In the third floor hallway they could hear the jazz band playing in the lounge; it was loud enough so where Sergei knocked extra hard on the door of one his employees.
After three knocks the door opened.
"Sorry to bother you, Yuri?" Sergei said in the hallway outside the apartment.
The man who answered the door rubbed his eyes. His legs and chest were thickly covered in gray body hair. "I thought you were in the hospital," said this man.
"Mind if I keep this painting up here with you?"
"Sure, come in."
"It will only be for a while."
"No problem. Come in. The two of you want some vodka?"
Sergei had not planned on staying, but the thought of sitting and relaxing for several minutes and having a drink seemed immeasurably inviting.
"Man, would I ever!" he said.
The old man, Yuri, retreated into the kitchenette---Astril and Sergei into the room. The satin scarf she wore trailed behind the tentative steps she made, clothed in a formal black dress, high healed shoes and bejeweled in expensive accruements. The overall darkness and filth of the apartment disconcerted her and her steps became even more tentative toward the filthy couch on which Sergei sat. The pain was evident in his face.
"Do you need an aspirin?" she asked, seated beside him.
"I took some already. I'll be fine."
The old man was in the kitchen pouring the drinks. Sergei asked him:
"Have the two of you met before?"
"Sure," Yuri answered.
Astril forced a smile. "How are you doing Yuri?"
"Oh, I'm holding up. I saw her dance last week in Episodes."
It seemed incredible that a dishwasher would attend. But Sergei explained, whispering: "Russians love ballet. In Moscow you'd be famous. You'd be a cultural hero---with plenty of suitors, let me tell you."
His breath felt hot on her ear, and smelled unpleasant. Instinctually, she leaned away from his yellow, sickly face and now sat very upright and composed on the couch, with her legs pressed firmly together and her hands resting prudishly on her lap.
"Fame means nothing to me, Sergei. You know that."
"Well then, how about New York or LA? You'd be the toast of the town. Imagine all those fine Northeast socialites cooing for your affection."
"Nah," she said. "Fame is stupid."
"You know what your problem is, you have no sense of social responsibility."
Sergei scoffed. "You and Billy are one in the same. You're two world class talents satisfied with Kansas City ---a cow town. Billy is a genuine Russian clairvoyant, it seems now. And you belong on the world stage. The two of you are peculiar people."
Astril knew perfectly well what she was---but was not in a boastful mood. What occupied her mind was the remark Sergei made about Billy Bayber being a clairvoyant. The idea confounded her.
"I never thought of him in that way," she said.
"How did you think of him?"
She lifted her shoulders and shrugged. "I don't know. I just assumed he was a crappy artist."
The painting was propped against a green recliner. The painting was one of many remote-view coordinate points designed by Billy Bayber specifically for the purpose of guiding astral travelers to the Pentakotic Gateway---that immense psychic flame engrained into the Soul of World, flaming in the Daath Sepheraph of the ABYSS. The old man, wearing nothing but underwear, leaned back in the recliner after serving the vodka; his feet were propped up on the bevel. The old man was Ukrainian Russian, and spoke with a much more guttural accent than Sergei.
"What should I do with it?" the old man asked in regard to the painting.
"I don't know quit yet. Just keep it for a while. I'll come and pick it up later. Can you keep it clean and protected? I'm sure you can. We'll hang it for you."
"There's a hammer and a box of nails in the kitchen."
Feeling anxious, and disgusted by the grime, Astril went into the kitchen to find the hammer and the nails. The kitchen overlooked the brown, shag carpeting in the living room where Sergei and Yuri drank from blue plastic cups. Nicotine stains lightly colored the walls a brown color and created a film over a double-hung window, below which stood the recliner. Born into a wealthy Massachusetts family, Astril was not accustomed to filth and poverty such as this and found her self hanging the picture merely to distract her from the grossness of her surroundings. Without asking permission, she hammered a nail into the wall.
"I couldn't find any small nails," she said as she nervously hammered with little girlish blows, "so this one will have to do."
"That's some nail," Sergei remarked.
"Is it too big?"
"It's fine. You could hang a side of beef on that nail," Sergei said.
"Looks like a sixteen penny nail from here," said the old man. Plaster crumbled to the floor. Sergei leaned forward in his seat and rather briskly and rudely touched the old man's arm with the same hand holding the blue plastic cup, now empty.
"More of the same, boss?"
"Unless, you have Merlot back there."
The old man laughed. "No, just vodka."
It seemed incredible to her that Sergei made the old man mix him another. After hammering the nail she sat next to him expressing moral superiority; first by eyeing him loquaciously, then tossed her hair over her shoulder with an abrupt movement of her head.
"You know, you're hard to feel sorry for."
"Honey, I have a blow torch in my stomach. Besides, I pay Yuri good money. He needs the exercise."
"He's like 100 years old. Are you in a hurry to get drunk?"
"Not especially, I suppose."
"Then be quiet and enjoy yourself---or I'll get your drinks."
In response, he sneered his eyes and groaned. With him in this playful mood, Astril felt free to tell him that he was a bully and that he should be more polite to his employees. His reply was charmed amusement.
"Am I embarrassing you with my simple way?" he asked.
She touched his hand gently but eyed him precociously with a stare that insinuated a willingness to spar. She said: "Why would I be embarrassed?"
"It's not as if your macho man act shocks me anymore."
He cherished her hand with the same sort of innocent wantonness with which she massaged his fingers. "Before we forget," he said, "hang the picture. We can't let anything happen to it. It's too precious to me now."
They let go of each other's hands. Astril hung the picture.
"A little more to the left," he said.
"Is this good?"
"No, a little more the other way."
"Here?" When she turned to look at him, he saw a tear in her eye.
"Good Lord, what are you doing Astril?"
She wiped the tear away, smiling. "I'm sorry. Is this good?"
"Perfect. Now smile, won't you? Don't be so glum. You're making me more depressed than I already am."
Astril was being very emotional and always seemed on the verge of tears knowing this would be their last time together if Sergei left the city. At thirty-nine, Sergei was a father figure to the girl. Briefly a look of happiness crossed over her face, but it vanished as soon as she sat next to him on the couch and realized that they probably wouldn't see each other, possibly, for years after tonight. What will come of us? Her eyes reassumed their previously enflamed appearance; the sorrow made the blueness all the more bright and intense, as if inwardly charged, staring at the Pentakotic Gateway. Her whole face was aflame glaring at the triangulated eye. Framed in gold leaf molding and highlighted by a brass, museum-style lamp, the painting was the only lighted object in the room and the whole apartment seemed transformed by its presence. Like all great works of art, the picture seemed to possess a kind of magnetism that influenced space and illuminated minds with hidden knowledge.
Directly beneath the floor was the bar. Because of this, the jazz composition could be heard, and felt, vibrating inside the small, low-ceiling apartment, which was paid for by Sergei, rent free, as compensation for two decades of devoted service.
"How long do you want me to keep it?" said the old man, Yuri, concerning the work of art.
"I don't know," Sergei answered. "Maybe, I don't know. Give me a year."
"All right. I guess I could put a sheet over it after you leave."
"A sheet? Seriously, you're covering it?"
"I don't like looking at the thing. Kind of creepy, sir."
Yuri pulled two rickety wooden chairs out from under a table that was draped in a thin, white cloth; the cloth was a bed sheet that served as a table cloth. On it was an open Bible and a waxed-covered bottle of wine, from which rose a tapered candle stick. He was about to remove the bed sheet, but there was a knock upon the door. Before Sergei could stop him, the old man swung the door wide open without any regard for who it might be. The little light from within the apartment produced a haze of luminosity around two shadowy figures standing in the doorway.
Immediately a feeling of doom fell upon Astril. In the luminosity she caught the glint of a hand gun that emerged from the coat pocket of one of the two men standing in the doorway. Both were Mexicans.
"What you say, man?" asked the gun bearer to Sergei.
Sergei said nothing.
The old man did not move from the threshold. The rounded rubber tip of his cane remained pressed into the carpeting underneath his feet. In spite of his enfeebled physical appearance, he scrutinized the Mexican from over the top of his reading glasses. Sergei stood behind the old man. His face was filled with energy.
Sergei told Yuri, reassuringly, "Be cool."
"What do you guys want?" asked Yuri.
The gun became more distinct when it was pointed at the old man's stomach. Next to the gun bearer was a short, black-haired, young man wearing a puffy Oakland Raider jacket, dark black in color. Both were drenched from the rain---and now both bore hand guns.
"The old man has nothing to do with it," Sergei said.
"We know about Yuri," said the older of the Mexicans.
"Put the gun down and we'll talk," Sergei said.
Neither were compliant. In fact, the one in the Raider jacket grinned in response. And his thin, tall, lanky partner to his side laughed: "Sergei wants to talk! Get that!"
The same one shoved Sergei and Yuri back into the apartment. The old man fell. Sergei was pistol whipped. The whip was fierce and sudden, and Sergei fell upon his knees; stunned by the blow, shocked by the brutality, and unable to catch his breath, his eyes rolled back into his skull. The jazz composition, Gigout's Toccata, rose through the floorboards, intermixing with the whimpers Sergei made as he doubled over in pain. Blood issued from his mouth. Sergei was struck again and again, and over and over the pianist down stairs played the same reiterating notes in concitato, the notes surging, rising, falling, and cresting in an endless circular rhythm. Yuri was praying loudly: "Lord God, our Father, help us!" Astril wrapped her arm around the old man, pulled him close to her side and comforted him with words of reassurance. Sergei was beaten mercilessly.
All the while her gaze did not deviate from the painting. Even when she was tied with nylon rope to a wooden chair, her concentration did not deviate from that clouded eye obscured by the milky cataract and hovering atop the flaming trinity. Oddly the eye comforted her. The harder she concentrated the brighter it became and the less distinct all the other features in the painting seemed; all the demons seemed to suddenly vanish; the occult pentagrams diminished into falling points growing more and more distant; the grotesque octagonal bi-pyramids melted into the liquid blackness; and all the thousands of coded impulses filled her mind with their unconscious thought-content, disappearing one by one as they did so. The whole painting seemed to dissolve into the single, unequivocal, un-divided essence of the triangulated eye ball---now no longer clouded over by the cataract.
The eye became human in shape---eloquent, bright and wide open. The twinkling light it emitted was full of joy and happiness.
Sergei, by then, was limp and helpless, and exhausted to the point where he was unable to resist his legs and arms being tied to the wooden chair beside her; his nose broken and leaking blood through the nostrils. In the chair beside him, she was simultaneously aware of his moans and the heat of his body as well as the unfathomable space and dimension opening before her on the psychic plane. Surrounding her was the brutality of the two men being beaten into unconsciousness and, at the same time, the infinite peace and love of absorbing herself in the fiery, bright, phosphorescence. An invisible "doorway" had opened in the Soul of the World.
On the floor was a kerosene heater whose filament flamed cherry red. The heat cut the moisture in the air, but at the expense of making the apartment uncomfortable and the living room miserable. Rings of moisture surrounded Sergei's arm pits. All he mumbled was:
"Don't kill the girl."
"No talking!" said the one in the Raider jacket. Then this same one looked toward the floor, and yelled: "Doesn't that music ever stop?"
The other man was tying Astril to the chair. The rope formed tight knots around her wrists and ankles, and caused the tips of her fingers to turn blue. Her eyes were still on the painting. Through it she sensed a mysterious light that did not emit enough energy to be detected by the physical senses, but whose presence could be inferred by the effect it had on her mind. Next they taped everyone's mouth shut. Deprived of movement, taped, bound, and un-able to speak, the feeling of claustrophobia was overwhelming. Her nostrils flared. Her face sweated. Once a strip was adhered to Yuri's face, five gallons of diesel gasoline were emptied onto the couch, the recliner, and the thick, brown carpeting underneath their feet. Orders were to burn them alive.