“This will be the last time I call you or talk to you,” the voice came through the receiver loud and clear. “If I had known … If I had even had an inkling of what I was getting myself into, of what kind of lowlife you really are and … just how twisted and perverse, well… Of course, I would never have had anything whatsoever to do with you.”
Fen Sloughheart started to chuckle arrogantly and reply, but the other man cut him off.
“No. No, you just hold on, you son of a bitch… Don’t even think about threatening me, Fen Fat Ass Sloughheart! I not only know the law like the back of my hand – hell, I could threaten myself better than you could ever imagine – but I also have my connections, too. I didn’t get where I am today without looking, listening, learning and linking. So you may as well swallow your laughter.”
In truth, Fen was really very nervous. He already knew enough to be plenty worried, but he honestly thought he had this one cornered, at least enough for the man to continue feeding him information… Apparently Sloughheart was wrong.
“So now, I’ll give you my last bit of information,” the voice came across very robustly and confidently. “And, by the way, I am not doing this because I have to, because I don’t, but because I actually want to tell you what I’ve learned… It should scare the bejesus out of you!” The man laughed rather arrogantly and almost tauntingly. “Anyway, Sloughhash, you’re in deep … so deep you’re drowning, and I don’t think anybody can save you … not even the god you’ve ranted and raved about for so many years. Hell! If he’s real, then he’s probably the one who’s finally plowing you under!” More laughter, obnoxious and triumphant.
“You know, I’m really kind of proud of myself,” the man continued. “I managed to help you, in many ways, better than anyone else around here could, and yet kept myself clean out of trouble. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back.” Fen just continued to listen, feeling sicker and sicker by the moment. “Yep. You’re in deep now. You’re practically facing a tight, well-trained, no nonsense military unit. That’s what it’s like, really.”
“What exactly do you mean?” Sloughheart managed.
“Ha! You really don’t have any idea, do you? You’re pathetic, you fat slob! Think about it! The Reverend Joy Brighterday, fully alive and well, is involved 100% along with your wife. Now the nurse practitioner and social worker, Lucent Keener, has jumped in with both feet, as well as her sharp and talented daughter, Moxie, and her boyfriend, Able – former member of your church – and they’ve buddied up with Morris … and, well, his mom, too, I suppose. Then there’s Blue Poorman, well-known throughout the area, Dr. Pert Kibitz and now Dr. Sage Wiseman, very well-known psychologist. Add to that the connections Brighterday has in the police department – and believe me, she does – plus the watchers in her neighborhood as well as Keener’s, which includes one I. Gunner Sharpe, and well… You’re going down.”
Fen Sloughheart already felt like he’d been taken down, yet something far more ominous was weighing heavily in his heart and soul.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” The voice sounded nearly gleeful. “They’ve brought in Phoenix Rising, too! Now that should scare the hell out of you! Of course, you probably didn’t realize they’ve been keeping an eye on you for at least the last couple of years… Did you know that?” Silence followed. “No, I didn’t think so, but now you do. And now it’s time for yours truly to bid you farewell… only one more point to make, you bastard! You leave my nephew and his mamma the hell alone, do you understand? You so much as look at them cross-eyed and I’ll have you buried … literally. And don’t think I’m making an empty threat, you piss ant; I’ve had it done before, and I can have it done again … no matter how many blind and idiotic followers you have! Got it?”
“Uh … yes, loud and clear. I … um … I understand perfectly,” Sloughheart wiped the sweat off both sides of his face. His shirt was soaked and hair matted down. He was definitely shaken to the core and felt like throwing up. No, he would not be approaching or communicating with Morris or his mother anymore … not on his life, literally.
“Good! Now I’m blocking your phone numbers at my office and home, but I don’t intend any other forms of communication from you either. No letters, no e-mails, no text messages from your secretary’s cell phone, no nothing! Good bye, and may you rot in hell!”
Sloughheart just sat in his living room recliner, holding the phone, breathing hard. His chest felt tight, real tight, and his head was throbbing with the accelerated beat of his heart. He was sweating like a stuck pig even though he had the thermostat set on 64o F (17.75o C). He thought he probably should notch it down another couple of degrees, at least, and then take an aspirin to prevent the heart attack that now felt imminent, but he couldn’t seem to move.
Funny, but Fen couldn’t even bring himself to pray. Actually, he prayed in church and at his school – in other words, publically – but hardly ever privately. Now when Sloughheart really wanted to, he couldn’t find the words to pray. What in the world would he say? He was sickened by the thought of having to pay out so much of his income to Effete, and even sicker at the prospect of spending any time in jail. The thought of the very real possibility of losing half or more of his congregation made him light-headed and nauseated. The fact that more seemed to be in the works, and he would very probably find himself in even more trouble than he was already just about sent him over the edge.
However, being honest with himself, Fen Sloughheart knew deep inside that if he had Angelica with him right now, or Morris … he knew what he would be doing, and he liked the idea; he craved the sounds, the images, the feelings. Point in fact, he thought he might call up his secretary to come over for an “emergency meeting and prayer.” She was quite a bit older and not much to look at, but he’d used her before in a pinch. He looked at the phone. Giving her a good old-fashioned working over might ease his tensions … somewhat, anyway, at least for tonight. “Oh!” Fen grabbed the left side of his chest as the pain stabbed him … and frightened him.
The thermostat and aspirin; that was his immediate goal … or the aspirin first, then the thermostat. He slowly stood up, and the sharp pain tightened and turned dull. His head started swimming; he felt like he was about to faint. Sloughheart bent over and grabbed the side stand next to his chair to stabilize himself. Suddenly it felt like someone was squeezing the back of his neck. He was sweating profusely now. There was no doubt in his mind something was seriously wrong, which nearly catapulted him into a frenzy. He had to get to the kitchen! So he slowly started marching in that direction, one small and careful step at a time.
Oh! Thank God! Sloughheart shouted to himself. He found the powdered aspirin, took out one pouch and poured himself an eight ounce glass of cool, filtered water. After washing down the aspirin, he spied a prescription bottle. Xanax. Oh my God! Thank heavens! Two tabs remained and he swallowed them both, then poured himself another half-glass of water just for good measure. Maybe I’ll live after all. Fen laughed in spite of himself. In the hallway, he notched the thermostat down to 62o F.
Suddenly his house seemed very eerie, like someone else was with him and he intuitively knew that, if this were true, this someone else was not good. Had someone snuck into his home? He had an excellent security system … but, then, he’d heard about Phoenix Rising and had been led to believe they were quite capable of getting in and out of places with no one knowing. Had one of them managed to by-pass his security? Had the culprit merely come to spy, or do something worse?
Fen Sloughheart was certainly in no condition to fight, even on his best of days. Oh, he could abuse and terrorize weak, frightened, vulnerable people, but actually engage in an honest-to-goodness brawl? Not by a longshot, especially not in his present condition; he could barely stand on his own two feet. The Xanax and aspirin were beginning to take effect; his heartrate had slowed down and the pain had eased off some, although there was still a lingering, dull ache deep in his chest.
The perceptibility of the sinister presence grew considerably. It was spine-chilling, and Fen was genuinely alarmed now. Joy Brighterday was alive and well, and he knew she suspected him. She hated him, anyway, so had she sent someone? Sloughheart knew now she was evidently well-connected, something he’d never suspected before. Why not, though? Serving on so many boards and committees, and participating in so many community projects, and generally making herself popular with all of the disgusting, pride-filled, local powers-that-be … why wouldn’t she be well-connected? They loved her. They love her beautiful body; they lust after her, he thought to himself. They like her charm and wit, and her worldly wisdom. She’s one of them, and she’s like an idol … a supposedly gifted, talented, intelligent sex idol, that’s all … but it’s enough!
For a moment, Fen considered calling out, feigning courage he didn’t have, but then thought better about it. He just stood there in the hallway, leaning against the wall, holding an empty glass. The presence grew more and more palpable … dark, heavy … alive. Sloughheart was desperate, but he couldn’t move. Perhaps this was the end after all, “and you would like that, wouldn’t you, daddy dear? Ready for me to come join you, huh?” It was difficult for him to speak above a whisper.
“Well … is it you? Come to pay your son a visit?” He breathed hard. “Why now? You never wanted a damn thing … to do with me … before! Have you come … to fetch me off … to glory land?” Fen laughed sardonically. “Oh, sweet glory … land … sweet glory…” The presence drew closer; his eyes dimmed and sight faded. “You bored, daddy dear? You bored up there … in your glory land…? How many … how many wings have you … picked off them angels?” He managed a barely audible laugh, frail and sick.
Just then it felt like someone hit him hard, right between the shoulder blades, and Fen Sloughheart crashed to the floor, face down… And he was out.