One of the recurring characters in my books is detective James Hemlock.
He is loved by many fans.
He first appeared in “The Culling of the Damned” in Taylor’s “Ghostly Quintet: Five Tales of Ghosts, Apparitions, and the Beyond” anthology. The second Hemlock story, called “They Say Heaven is Paved with Gold” appears in “Amazing Adventures” a pulp fiction anthology being put together by Editor Joel Mark Harris. And then there is “No Crocodile Tears Permitted”, a short story in “Sinister Sextet: Six Supernatural Stories.”
Now comes “Cold Water”, a story which takes place between “They Say Heaven is Paved with Gold” and “No Crocodile Tears Permitted”. It is currently published exclusively on this blog, but will appear in a forthcoming anthology of Hemlock stories.
It was written to bring attention to ALS, and to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
I hope you will enjoy this latest installment, in the Hemlock series, and for those of you who haven’t read the others, “Ghostly Quintet”, “Sinister Sextet” are available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle files. You can expect “Amazing Adventure Stories” to be available on Amazon and Kindle on or around the 16th of September.
Thanks to ArtieQ for encouraging me to “take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.” Without that challenge, I never would have written this piece.
Thomas D. Taylor
By Thomas D. Taylor
Copyright 2014, Thomas D. Taylor All rights reserved, including worldwide rights and right of reproduction.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents, and events are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead) locales, incidents or events, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
After a day of the burning sun beating down on his boat, with not even the breeze from the boat’s motion across the ocean moderating the heat much to speak of, the hot and humid weather on Key West had not done Detective James Hemlock any favors, and going into a club on Duval Street at night to have a cold drink had turned out to be a mistake.
All he had wanted was something to quench his thirst -perhaps in a lively club overflowing with frolicking college students- so that he could reminisce about what it had been like to live a happy-go-lucky, more normal life. Maybe also so that he could remember what it was like to feel young.
But the noisy shouting and yelling, the drunkenness, the drumming nonsense music they listened to these days… It seemed like it was all a bunch of out-of-their-minds people trying too hard to have a good time amid cacophony, or else, maybe they were having a good time, but it was a good time that he could not partake of, because he did not understand this generation’s craziness.
Well, no. That wasn’t it. The kids just annoyed the shit out of him. When he was their age, he would not have been caught dead acting the way some of these kids were acting, crazy, or not crazy.
There was a girl gyrating on top of a chair with an overturned beer pitcher on her head. Two boys were smoking pot on the dance floor. There was lots of twerking going on. And it didn’t take a genius to figure out some of these “young adults” were doing some heavy petting in some of the more remote and shady booths.
He hadn’t ordered anything. Didn’t want to. He had just turned around and left.
Of course, that had been his first and only attempt to get a drink. There were other clubs, and there were bars, and there were restaurants, although most of them were closed at this ungodly hour. But he could have found something, had he bothered to search for it.
The thing was, he didn’t want to search for anything. He wanted to come in off the ocean and, like a sailor on leave, go right into the first place he saw that beckoned to him, and start having a good time.
But after his recent adventures, he didn’t know if he could have a good time anymore, anyway.
The nightmare on his brother’s island during the hurricane, and the Plum investigation that had led him to discover what was beneath the Stillman house, had somehow made him feel older and wiser in ways he did not understand. Perhaps he was suffering from PTSD.
Also, with the people who had attempted to waylay him at his brother’s house dispatched and dealt with, he was experiencing a new kind of feeling he hadn’t previously known existed: That of being prey on the run.
It seemed indisputable now, that he was living on borrowed time.
He believed he might have been followed when he was in the Bahamas, and if he hadn’t been followed there, he knew he was being followed here, although he had not yet seen any signs that he was under surveillance by law enforcement authorities proper. But the pleasant fiction that law enforcement didn’t have what it took to track him down -Hemlock was as good as a chameleon when it came to changing his appearance- was wearing thin anyway. There were cameras everywhere these days, and all it took was some facial recognition software to link his current appearance to the known photos of him.
It was members of the cult that were after him right now, though. Of that, he was certain.
The trip to the Bahamas hadn’t been long enough to shake his adversaries, apparently, and tonight, he hadn’t bothered to work very hard to conceal his identity.
It seemed that Hemlock had been lax.
They -there were five of them- had waited for him across the street from the club. He’d seen them before he’d gone in and thought nothing of them. But when they were still there when he had come out, he knew something was up.
Anyone else would not have picked up on the scant clues that tied them to his investigations. But he had.
Dressed as tourists, he believed they were really locals.
They had hammed up the tourist garb in the first place, what with their overly large and ridiculous brand new Panama hats, the “I love Florida” T-shirt one of them was wearing, and too many bags of souvenirs to be carrying around this late at night. In the second place, they weren’t sweating like most people who weren’t used to the Floridian climate did. And thirdly, they were not integrating into, and engaging in, the night life, but merely standing on a corner talking and laughing. From the snippets he was able to glean from where he was standing, the conversation was taking dizzying turns, and jumping from topic to topic much too quickly to be a real conversation.
They were keeping up the appearance of normal social interaction, but the reality was an awkward and unsettling imitation of one.
But the other tell-tale sign that all was not as it seemed was the grim undercurrent he detected in their stance and demeanor. These were not tourists on a trip. They were cultists with a cause. Men bent on a macabre mission.
All right for you guys, Hemlock thought to himself. He chose a direction at random and started walking.
He was unarmed, and aware of that fact. Lately -when he was on an investigation in a secluded area, or an area where there was not likely to be law enforcement personnel nearby- he had taken to wearing as many holsters with loaded weapons as he could carry. His pockets bulged with spare ammo on those occasions. But he wasn’t going to go around that way on the streets of Key West.
Yet he had no fear. Delving into this cult’s activities had caused him to see things and face challenges that most cops never saw or did in their entire time of service. Hemlock was confident that five probable cult members were something he could handle with or without weapons. He had enough experience to know that anything could be made into a weapon in an emergency if need be too.
He rounded a corner, but glanced quickly at the reflective surface of a window as he did.
Yes, they were following him. Now crossing the street and heading his way.
They were making a beeline for him.
What was happening reminded him once of when he was a kid in junior high. One of the class bullies had rounded up a posse of kids and threatened to beat him up on the last day of school. They had tailed him a good way before he’d managed to ditch them. He felt his adrenaline beginning to rush, just like it had way back then, and controlled his emotions.
What to do, what to do, he wondered to himself. His instinct was to find something he could use as a weapon, corner them, or turn the tables on them in some way, and then beat them senseless. When they came to, he would become a fearful legend among the cultists. Word would get around that he was not someone with whom to fuck.
But the other way to play the game was simply to run and hide. So far, with the exception of one person -Matthew Plum- no one had survived any encounter with him, and it was probable that no one knew that he, Hemlock, had been responsible for the deaths. This gave Plum the luxury of framing Hemlock any way he wanted, and weaving any tapestry around the portrait. If Plum wanted to make Hemlock a non-issue, he could. But if he wanted to make it out that Hemlock was a ruthless killer, he could do that.
But if Hemlock simply ran, like a coward, and without doing any kind of harm whatsoever to these pursuers, word might get around that he was not a threat, and certainly not a match for a group of five people. And if Plum had already painted Hemlock as a killing machine, five people offering different or contrary testimony would make Plum look like a fool.
So he ran.
He cut down Southard Street, and then poured on the steam, making a left onto Bahama Street. Bahama Street ran for two blocks, and the logical thing for him to do was to go to the end of it and turn one way or the other, but instead, he cut through some private property and came out on Simonton. There, he doubled back to Southard, crossed that, and ran down another block until he hit Angela.
By this time, he was getting winded, and the heat and humidity were affecting him worse than ever. His T-shirt stuck to his back like plastic wrap folded over itself.
Better think of a plan, bub, he thought, as he ducked behind a tree.
He looked back in the direction he had come from, and saw one person standing on the corner of Sinomton and Angela talking into a cell phone. Hemlock could not at first tell if this was one of the group or not, but then he saw the “I Love Florida” T-shirt in the glare from the street light. While he was sure there were many people walking around with those kinds of shirts, Hemlock could not take the risk that this man wasn’t from his group of followers.
He was pleased that they may have split up, because it meant that he had evaded them, however temporarily, but it also meant that unless he could put some real distance between them and himself, there was a chance he could run into any one of the five of them at any time.
He began to think about how he had been spotted. Had they seen him pull into key with his boat? If so, had they seen where it was moored? He had avoided all the major marinas, and had selected a private dock situated in front of a house which had been up for sale for over a year. Could they have been following him ever since he had tied up?
That was a possibility. But just as possible was that members of the cult were everywhere, and had been warned to look out for him. They could have spotted him anywhere.
It didn’t make sense for the cult’s members to tail him all over Key West anyway when they could have just as easily killed him in his boat, towed the boat out to sea, and then made him disappear forever.
Then again, maybe they’d seen him, but hadn’t caught up to him until he had gone into the club.
He wanted to go back to where his boat was, but if they had a lookout there, or if they were grouped there and waiting for him, there would be a struggle. Or maybe they would have called the police or even the FBI. He knew the cult had members placed within those organizations. The police or FBI could catch him and keep him tied up in the legal system forever.
The darkness was working in his favor, but the streetlights were bright enough so that people out and about would see him slinking around if they happened to be looking in his direction when he was on the move.
Well what the hell? Whether the can or can’t see me at night very well, they sure as hell will be able to see me during the day. It’s time to get off this key and make for the mainland.
He waited until he thought it was safe and headed the opposite way down Angela, and turned on 5, headed in the direction of the Earnest Hemingway Home and Museum.
I’m sure this island was nice enough in its time, but there’s nothing here that would cause me to want to live here. Maybe Hemingway thought something similar before he bought his house in Cuba.
He was broadsided just as he crossed Samantha Lane. Two men came out of the dark and flattened him to the pavement.
He lay face down, and when Hemlock heard the metallic jingle of handcuffs, he knew he had to act.
He wiggled his legs around to discourage them from thinking about cuffing his ankles, and he hid his hands under his stomach.
“Turn him over,” one of the men said, and Hemlock allowed himself to be turned.
As the other man went for his hands, he grabbed the pair of cuffs, which were open, rolled over twice, sprang to his feet, and ran, taking the handcuffs with him.
The two men pursued.
Hemlock had a plan, but he was not prepared to put it into effect until he knew for sure who it was that were chasing him. They were probably cult members, but they could just as easily be law enforcement. If they were law enforcement, he would eventually lose them. If they were cult members, he would kill them both.
A third man hit came up from behind and tripped him up. He lost his balance and pinwheeled his arms, still holding the bracelets.
Hemlock knew he had no choice but to act, cops or no, or the three men would get the upper hand.
He turned around and gouged one of the open metal cuffs down the center of this new man’s face, tearing open the skin in a ragged gash. Blood spurted, and the man cursed and brought his hands up to his cheeks, checking to see how much damage had been done. Hemlock used the opportunity to clip one of the cuffs on one of the man’s wrists.
That was when the first two men caught up to him.
One threw a punch at him.
Hemlock ducked aside, and when the punch didn’t connect, the man lost his balance and fell down. Hemlock shoved the bleeding man to the ground and cuffed both men together.
He took a hit from the last man standing, but he hardly felt the blow.
When he stood up, he laid into the man who had hit him with all of his might, rocking him with three quick uppercuts and two hard roundhouses with his right fist, and throwing in a surprise punch with his left. When his opponent dodge the last strike, Hemlock went for the gut, knocking the wind out of him and causing him double over. Hemlock put his hands together in a ball and slammed it down on the top of the man’s skull.
Then, he turned to the two men on the ground, both of which were getting up, and he kicked one, then the other, in the ribs. While these men were not sissies, they were immediately incapacitated. One fell to the pavement, writhing in pain, and the other was pulled down by the thrashing man’s movements. Hemlock kicked them both repeatedly, not really caring where he connected. Ribs, legs, arms, skulls. It was all the same to him. And he could have sworn he heard a few cracks and crunches as he continued with his defensive, albeit vicious, assault on them.
Meanwhile, the man who had lost his breath was getting it back, and Hemlock turned his attention on him and went for broke, pummeling him in the head as many times as he could until finally, the man lost consciousness.
Hemlock’s fury was increasing by the second. He’d had enough of this cult. He’d had enough of the people who had devoted themselves to it. They were stalking him, which meant that they had taken away his freedom to go about without fear or worry of being harmed or killed.
In essence, these cult people had taken away what Hemlock had -up until his entanglement with Plum- considered to be his life.
Now, he deliberately kicked the remaining two men in the head, wanting to kill them. Meaning to kill them. Teeth flew from the mouth of one of them. The little bones and bone fragments bounced off the pavement like cloudy diamonds. The other man passed out when Hemlock’s foot connected with his nose.
He delivered a few more kicks to finish off the one with the broken jaw, and then he was victorious.
Quickly, he looked around to see if anyone had noticed the fight, or if there was anyone else coming to challenge him.
But the streets were empty.
He squatted down and checked the three men for a pulse. He had an odd mix of emotions when he found out their hearts were still beating: Relief and disappointment.
He frisked them for weapons, badges, and ID and came up with goose eggs. If he had killed them and left them here, unless these men had been fingerprinted sometime in their lives, or had had their DNA collected, or unless they were law enforcement, or known to law enforcement, the forensic investigators would have a hard time identifying them.
Suddenly, he heard the warbling of a cell phone. It was lying on the sidewalk nearby.
He assumed it belonged to one of the men, and he went to it and picked it up.
“Yeah?” he answered.
“You get him?” a voice on the other end of the line asked.
“No one got me, asshole! If you and your pal want to collect your three buddies, they’re near the corner of Petronia and 5. Don’t you dare fuck with me again, whoever you are! I won’t let you live to regret it!”
He shut the phone off, considered dropping it to the pavement and crushing it, but thought better of it. Later, when he had more time, he could search through the phone and find out as much as he could about its owner, and maybe more about the cult and its activities.
They might have a geo-positioning locator on the thing though. They might be able to follow you wherever you go.
“Fine,” he muttered to himself. He put the phone on the blacktop and stepped on it forcefully. The glass shattered, and the keyboard caved in a little. Beyond that, he didn’t know how much damage he had done to it.
He brought his foot down on it a couple more times.
That will have to do. I’m too fucking tired to keep trying to bust it up right now.
Hemlock picked up the phone’s remnants and put them in one of his pockets.
He would try to do a better job of destroying it later, and when he judged he had done the job right, he would drop the pieces in the ocean.
Sweating like a pig, he crossed Petronia. There were still no cars to be seen. There weren’t even any vehicles approaching the intersection. He couldn’t see any people coming either.
He wanted to hustle down to the sea front, but couldn’t. The adrenaline was winding down and he was feeling fatigued and dehydrated.
He was a little afraid he was going to pass out.
When he got to the Earnest Hemingway Home and Museum, he saw four people sitting behind a long table that had been placed across the main walkway. There were some buckets on top of the table, and a few coolers beneath.
“Hey!” one of them said to Hemlock as he was about to pass them. “You barely made it. 11:55 PM. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge ends at 12:00 midnight. You want to give it a try?”
“ALS, huh?” Hemlock said.
“Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS. Lou Gehrig’s Disease. You’ve heard of it right?”
Hemlock didn’t bother to answer, or even to look at them. Instead, he took out his wallet, slapped a twenty dollar bill down on the table, put his wallet away, grabbed a bucket, and tipped it over his head.
Cold water splashed over him. He had expected it to be freezing, but the heat must have melted the ice and warmed the water a little. It was refreshing. Just what he needed. He only wished he could have drunk some of it.
“Thanks,” he said, wearily, and walked on.