Article #677 (Intercepted Email Transmission)
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 . 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 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 two weeks ago. 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 quiet, well-fed, post dinner crowds 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 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,
A tall, squared-shouldered, well-built man wearing a trench coat entered the bar as discreetly as possible, and still his modest presence alone was profound enough to cause heads to turn in the direction where he had entered through the all-glass front doors; his eyes obscured by handsome 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 treading softly through the lounge, toward an employee-only door behind the bar top. Thinking it might be Sergei, 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 between 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 blue gaseous flames, invested with sulfurous flakes of red and yellow.
"Sergei, is that you?" she yelled from the kitchen threshold, loud enough to be heard over the bubbling of the deep fat fryer and the sizzle of the open grill.
In return the man made a curt gesture for her to follow but continued walking as if unconcerned if she followed or not; it was himmustache-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 half lit private reception room at the back of the restaurant. 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 hand tool over to the ominous occult painting designed by his nephew Billy Bayber. The Pentakotic Gateway hung 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 and slid the tool behind the frame in the attempt to un-bolt the frame from the 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 suffering quit a bit of discomfort right now, in fact. If you want to blow my brains out, go ahead."
The moment her hand touched his shoulder the wild mix of colors swirling through her astral-aura suddenly cleared, assuming a spring-like clarity as she reflected her imaginative power upon the currents of thought imbuing his etheric Life Body, and magically his Stoic temperament cracked wide open.
In a weak but desperate voice he quickly explained to her that he had crossed the gateway discovered by his nephew, and needed time to recuperate; moreover that he needed relaxation, and that he would be leaving town tonight for the Fiji Islands . "The things I've seen, Astril!" he repeated, shaking his head incredulously, mixed with profanities as he fumbled with the tool. "God, how I need to get away! Everything in Fiji seems to emit a primordial glow," he said and stopped quit abruptly as if he wanted to lose himself in this glow. "You'd love it there, Astril," he went on. He had a Fijian bank account with enough money in it for a lifetime, "two life times," he added.
"You have to leave?"
"Do I have to leave?" His tone suggested she was dull for merely asking. Consequently Astril grew quiet and gazed at the picture, which was brightened by a brass museum-style lamp. "The Mafia trashed my apartment and killed my cat!" he went on. "Do I have to leave? Only if I want to live. They're after me. Why, I don't know for sure." The all-seeing cataract upon which she gazed floated at the top-center of the painting, atop a sinister triangle blazing in hell fire, with thousands of occult symbols filling the background like coded impulses. The first bolt came unscrewed and fell into the carpeting but Sergei didn't bother picking it up off the floor, and instead went over to the other side of the painting and started removing the opposite bolt.
A crazy look was in his eyes.
"Just go home. Finish your set, take a cab home, and go to sleep. The Mafia is in a frenzy. I just wish I knew why they've targeted me."
"I don't want to leave you. I don't want you to leave town. I want you to stay."
"Sugar, I have to go. 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."
The restaurant was on the ground level of a historic brick building, completely revamped and modernized on the restaurant level but run-down on the upper floors. The building had been remodeled to preserve the old world charm of the infamous Meulbach Hotel that previously occupied the space, whose grand-size Victorian chandeliers still sparkled in the dining room, and whose gorgeous beveled mirrors now reflected jazz listeners in the lounge. Partly magnetic thought-impressions, still lingering in the building's aura, flooded the girl's consciousness on their way back through the restaurant interiors to the stairwell. Sergei carried the painting yet managed to open the doors, and their feet clattered together up the stairwell leading up to the above floors.
The silence between them made it increasingly obvious that they were thinking identical thoughts concerning Sergei's departure. The sting of separation was already beginning to play on their emotions and they exchanged long stares and sad smiles up the staircase. Astril burst out as if to break the silence: "I heard a fantastic recording yesterday."
"Oh yeah, what?"
"The Trio! You need to listen to them. They're from the 80s. Cedar Walton is on the piano. "
"You know him?"
"Come on, you must."
"I don't. Astril, I think you underestimate your musical knowledge. Cedar Walton, shit, even I don't know who the fuck that is. Most people haven't the time to listen to music like you have, with endless love and appreciation. I'd like to, though. That's one of the things I want to do in Fiji . I want to be the type of person who listens to music and wanders through art galleries and watches ballets and reads like you and Billy read. That's one of the things I want to do in Fiji , sit on the beach, listen to music, cook. . . be with you." They exchanged lascivious smiles but quickly looked away as they rounded the flight of stairs. "It will be hard enough catching my flight tonight at KCI. Swear to me you'll go home after we drop off the painting."
"You must be the strong one tonight. If it were up to me, I'd drag you along. Lay low for a while if you stay, just to be safe. I don't know why they're after me. I think I may know the reason, but they never killed me over those reasons in the past. It's all very baffling."
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.
The stairwell was dim and musty-smelling, rather grungy. The upper floors were left virtually untouched by the expensive renovations, and Astril found herself going down a hallway on the second floor, curling her nose at the musty dampness, peeling wall paper, and threadbare carpeting. Sergei knocked very hard on the false-wood door of one his employees.
An old man answered the knock, and Astril almost burst out laughing. Sergei put his hand over her mouth.
"Sorry to bother you, Yuri?" Sergei said in the hallway.
The man rubbed his eyes. He was very old. His legs and chest were thickly covered in gray body hair the thickness of a wool sweater. "I thought you were in the hospital," said this man.
"I got out, man. Mind if I keep this painting up here with you? I have to leave town and I don't want anybody screwing with it."
"Sure, come in."
"It will only be for a while."
"No problem. Come in. Hang the picture. I don't give a fuck. The two of you want some vodka? I was just starting a bottle."
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 went into the room, the only room in a one-room studio apartment. The apartment was so much beneath the girl, in terms of culture, that the two men watched her with cringing expressions on their faces. The satin scarf she wore trailed behind the tentative steps Astril 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 yet more tentative toward the filthy couch on which Sergei plopped. 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. It's my heart that's on fire."
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, if you moved to Moscow ."
His breath felt uncomfortably hot on her ear, and smelled unpleasant. Instinctually, she leaned away 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."
"Imagine all those fine Northeast socialites cooing for your affection if you moved back to New York , armed with all your brilliant choreographs and music scores."
"Nah," she said.
"Nah," he mocked her.
"In Kansas City I get to choreograph, dance, play and compose music. Forget it. In New York I used to dance 300 ballets per year, with time for nothing else. I need free time."
"You know what your problem is, you have no sense of social responsibility. You should want to work with the best in your field, before audiences that are keen and knowledgeable. Half of the audience of ballet's in Kansas City are composed of old people that promoters buss from retirement communities. Did you know that? The other half are suburban families with girls who dance ballet. It's laughable, charming but laughable, when you look at ballet audiences in Kansas City ."
"Despite what you say, the world doesn't revolve around New York , Sergei. People in the Midwest are people, too, you know. They're not cattle. You, more than anyone, should know that. You've become a millionaire of their hard earned money."
Sergei scoffed. "You and Billy are one in the same. You're two world class talents satisfied with Kansas City a cow town. I feed em' and stuff em' and they wobble off like fat fuckers to the lounge where you sing to them as though they were princes and princesses worthy of music such as yours, which they can neither hear nor comprehend. What good will ever come of you? Huh? Nothing! What wasted time! What wasted genius. Billy is a genuine American clairvoyant, it seems now. And you belong on the world stage. The two of you are peculiar people."
Astril knew perfectly well what she wasbut 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 assumed he was, I don't know, he's very Saturian isn't he? His trances don't seem healthy."
"They most certainly are not."
His 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 Gatewaythat immense psychic flame engrained in the Soul of World, flaming in the Daath Sepheraph of the ABYSS. The old man, wearing nothing but cotton 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 rather disgusted, Astril went into the kitchen to find the hammer and nails; her large, wide eyes constantly moving about from here to there, flickering and flashing to evade looking too long at any one thing in particular, in fear that it many nauseate her. The kitchen overlooked the shag carpeting in the living room where Sergei and Yuri drank from blue plastic cups. Nicotine stains colored the walls a brown color and created a film upon the glass of the double-hung window, below which stood the threadbare recliner. Born into a wealthy Massachusetts family, the girl was un-accustomed to filth and poverty such as this and found her self hanging the picture merely for the purpose of distracting herself from the grossness of her surroundings.
"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?"
"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 that Sergei made the old man mix him another. After hammering the nail she sat next to him expressing the innate moral superiority that young woman feel toward conservative men; 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. 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 yourselfor 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. I've seen you with your pants down."
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 town. His Fijian bank account held the money that he had saved for his retirement, drug money mostly which had trickled down from a sophisticated safety deposit arrangement he had set up within the Swiss banking system. Sergei was a "man-of-the-world" to the girl. Briefly a look of happiness crossed over her face but vanished as soon as she sat next to him on the couch. "What will come of us?" her eyes seemed say; the sorrow made the blueness all the more bright and intense. 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.
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.
"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. "Give me a year, won't you?"
"I guess I could put a sheet over it after you leave."
"You're covering it? You're kidding?"
"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 a white, cotton 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 opened the door without any regard for their safety or who it might be, but drunkenly and erratically swung the door wide open. What little light there was within the apartment produced a haze of luminosity around two shadowy figures standing in the doorway. A feeling of doom came upon Astril. In the luminosity she caught the glint of a hand gun; the gun had emerged from the coat pocket of one of the two men standing in the doorway.
"What do 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 gangsters 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 that glistened like satin. Both were drenched from the rainand 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 complied. In fact, the one in the Raider jacket grinned in response. And his thin, tall, lanky partner 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, gagging for air when kicked in the stomach. The musical composition, Gigout's Toccata, rose through the floorboards, intermixing with the whimpers Sergei made. Blood issued from his mouth. He 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 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 whole painting seemed to dissolve into the single, unequivocal, un-divided essence of the triangulated eye ballnow no longer clouded by the cataract.
The eye became human in shapeeloquent, bright and wide open. The twinkling light it emitted was full of joy and happiness and seemed to emit the life giving rays.
Sergei, by then, was limp and helpless, and exhausted to point where he was unable to resist his legs and arms being tied to the wooden chair; 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 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.
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 shined 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. A strip of tape was adhered to Yuri's face. Then five gallons of diesel gasoline were emptied onto the couch, the recliner, and the carpeting underneath their feet.
Orders were to burn them alive.