Deleted Scene from MADHOUSE (Cal Leandros Novel 3)04 Jun 2011, Posted by Blog, Rob Thurman's Twitter, The Cal Leandros Novels in
This was a scene cut from Cal Leandros Book 3 (I was fond of it as it was just goofy fun in the midst of angst, dark vengeance, and a cannibalistic supernatural mass murderer…a nice light note, but it was cut. I couldn’t remember if I’d ever posted it here on the website…in case I hadn’t, I’m rectifying the situation. I’m all about rectification. And, remember, a few pages of silliness that is in direct contrast to the customary nature of Cal and Niko’s ninety-nine point nine lethal jobs) On the other hand, it’s interesting to see how far Cal has come in the series…or fallen. He walks a dark road and I was surprised by the memories that this little bit of fluff brought back. Memories of Madhouse (which at the time was the most dark and borderline horror/UF of the series) and how Cal was dark, non-stop snark, cynical, sarcastic as hell, and completely ruthless (except in the fluff below), yet for all of that, I now look back from just finishing Book 7 and think, damn, I can almost see an ‘innocence’ in him back then. Or more a lack of knowledge. Not knowing he was on that road and where that road, barring extreme intervention, will end.
It’s intriguing that I had no idea where he would go at that point and I feel like I owe him an apology. Sorry for making your life a living hell so I (and readers) could enjoy your torment, angst, snarkasm, unbreakable battlefield bonding with your brother and friends, wicked pop culture references, and ass-kicking so bloody and fierce and brutal that Chuck Norris would have to wear a cup just to read the books.
As much as I hated kidnapping cases, I wasn’t a whole lot fonder of the extermination ones. But as much as I disliked it, the next day that’s what we were doing.
“What’s it called again?” I asked, idly switching the radio over from Niko’s songs-long-before-we-were-born station to something a little more current.
“An Aitvaras and turn that back before I break a finger or two.”
I glanced over to gauge the seriousness of the threat, gave an aggrieved groan, and switched it back. I still had a lingering headache from opening the gate at the museum anyway. I wasn’t going to appreciate any kind of music right then. “And what the hell is an Aitvaras?”
Niko tapped fingers on the steering wheel and mused, “I wonder if I slammed a book of mythology against your head if the knowledge would soak in through sheer osmosis. Nothing else seems to work.” He took the Verrazano bridge and continued, “An Aitvaras is a creature that is a mixture of rooster and serpent. The legend states it’s a rooster indoors and a serpent outdoors, but we know how accurate legends are.” That would be not very. “An Aitvaras will find a house and inhabit it…for good. They won’t leave and are supposedly very wily.”
“You mean the cartoon coyote?” I said innocently.
“Yes, that’s exactly who I meant. And if I’m lucky a falling anvil will hit you on the head and knock you into blissful silence,” he said with exasperation. “If you can’t say anything intelligent….” The words trailed off as I grinned at him. “Never mind,” he sighed. “It would be too difficult to explain your newfound muteness.”
“Actually a lot of people might be pretty happy about that.” My boss at the bar for one. He hadn’t appreciated the long lunch I was taking today—the very long lunch. Turning my head I looked out the window at the choppy gray water below and wondered what tentacled thing lurked in it. When you live in a world of monsters you tend to think things like that. If you were a typical oblivious human, you probably thought, ‘what crappy weather.’ Lucky clueless humans.
“Maybe we should swing by Rafferty and Catcher’s place.” We hadn’t been able to reach Rafferty for a month now and Catcher was incapable of answering the phone. I didn’t want to say I was worried, it wasn’t as if Rafferty was more than an acquaintance…even if he had saved my life and even if he was an okay kind of guy. But it wasn’t like he was…oh hell, I was worried. Why not admit it to myself? I didn’t have to admit it to anyone else.
“That’s a good idea. We will.” It was said so casually that I knew Nik had already planned to and that I wasn’t fooling him in the slightest.
Sliding down a little in the seat, I beat a tempo on my legs. “So…a gargoyle.”
“Yes. We’ve never seen one of those. It should be educational. I asked Promise about both him and the Aitvaras. She’s not ever seen one of the latter, but says gargoyles have thick skin, like elephant hide but much more difficult to penetrate. They’re nearly indestructible. However, while they’re swift in flight, they’re slow and lumbering on the ground, which may be why he called us. He can’t catch his pest. I doubt there’s much flying room in a house.”
We’d received the call that morning from a Mr. Grxxl. At least I thought that’s how you’d spell it. As for duplicating the pronunciation, forget about it. We didn’t have money for an office, to say the least, and really, what was the point? Our customers weren’t the kind to stand on ceremony. If they wanted to hire us, they’d couldn’t care less if we lived in a cave, roosted in a tree, or set up shop in a junkyard—a good deal of them already did. We never met them at the apartment anyway. Our number was unlisted, you had to get it via the grapevine, and we liked our privacy. We usually met them at Central Park and got half the money up front. Mr. G. was going to be an except as he apparently didn’t leave the house much. But he was paying us up front before we stepped into Aitvaras territory. Commerce on a porch…worked for me.
Turned out he lived in a tidy Staten Island neighborhood. Tidy being moderate sized yards, moderate sized French looking houses, and the not so moderate prices of over a million and a half. “How much do you think we can soak this guy for?” I asked as we pulled up into the driveway that curved along the front of the house.
“You have got to start limiting your time with Goodfellow. It’s hazardous to your morality.”
Only Nik would worry about my morality. I opened the car door, the comforting weight of the Glock resting against my ribcage. “Do you think we need a waiver for damages? I mean, I brought the silencer, but quietly shooting up his walls probably won’t make him any happier.”
“If you cannot take out one rooster without destroying Mr. Grxxl’s house,” of course Niko had no trouble pronouncing the name, “then I wash my hands of you.” He walked to the porch and rang the bell. It was nice if you were into that sort of thing. I wasn’t. Sounded like monks yodeling. Several seconds later Mr. G. opened the door. I did my best not to react. Okay, I could see why he didn’t leave the house much.
He could pass for human, if that human had a horribly disfiguring skin disease and really bad taste in hats. He had a broad hooked nose, tiny eyes buried in folds of flesh and a heavy shelf of browbone, jowls that nearly covered a jutting chin, no lips to speak of, and a wide array of large warts sprinkling his face. And the entire thing was covered with pancake make up to give him a flesh colored tone that, as evidenced by the gray hand holding gloves, he didn’t have. The hat was broad rimmed, made of straw and a good two feet across.
He didn’t waste any time of chit chat or negotiating our price. Handing me a stack of greenbacks that could definitely be considered in the soakable range, he said curtly with a voice like water rushing over stone, “I’ll be out back gardening. Call me when you’re done.” Then he walked around the house and was gone.
“Huh.” I riffled the bills. “All this for a chicken.”
Ah, the innocence of the truly moronic.
The inside of the house echoed the outside. From the small foyer of black and white marble tile I could see antiques, delicate bonging clocks, boldly colored rugs, and rough-hewn wooden beams on the immaculate white ceiling. There was also a sweeping staircase with treads so polished they were practically mirrors. There were stained glass lamps everywhere. Emerald, ruby, amethyst, sapphire, topaz light shone softly.
“Nice,” I said. “Now where’s the bird?”
“Let’s split up and see, shall we?”
I took the upstairs while Nik took the ground floor. I checked out bathrooms, linen closets, two guest rooms, and finally the master bedroom. Nothing. Grumbling, I got down on all fours to peer under the huge four poster monstrosity of a bed.
Beady yellow eyes blinked back at me as a beak clacked and a red combed head tilted curiously to one side. It crowed, cocked its head the other way, and managed to look even more stupid than your average fryer.
I snorted. “I wish all money were this easy,” I muttered.
Reaching under the bed, I closed my hand around the feathered neck and started to pull it from under the bed. Nothing happened. I tugged again. Still nothing. Okay, fine. No way I was using my gun on a chicken if I didn’t have to. I’d never live it down. I lay flat on my stomach, wrapped both hands around the scrawny neck, and yanked. It squawked and something smacked me hard on the top of the head.
“Ow, goddamnit.” I looked up to see what looked like the tail of a boa constrictor weaving over my head. It seemed the myth had some basis in truth, no matter how small. It wasn’t a rooster inside and a serpent out. It was both at once; the unholy mating of snake and bird to make one stubborn, stupid, evilly annoying shit. My opinion of it didn’t improve any when the tail swatted me again…hard.
“Be that way, chicken little,” I snapped, letting go and sliding back. Pulling the gun, I tried not to feel bad about shooting what was basically a farm animal with one toe in the supernatural world. Never mind I ate chicken all the time. I didn’t really want to kill one myself, but a job was a job. Hell, maybe it savaged neighborhood dogs at night or something. It could be true.
Sucking in a breath, I aimed and fired…about a millisecond after the damn thing streaked past me and out the door. The bullet hit a cherry wood dresser, leaving a nice neat hole surround by an explosion of splinters. “Shit.” I rolled, got to my feet, and ran after it. By the time I hit the hall, it had already disappeared. “Damn.” I checked all the other rooms and headed for the stairs. “Nik, incoming!”
Niko appeared at the bottom of the stairs. He, less optimistic or less stupid than me, had his sword ready. “Where?”
“I don’t know.” I looked back and forth quickly. “Down here somewhere. It’s a fast little shit. Half rooster, half frigging python.”
“You hair looks a little…bedraggled.” He headed into the living room. “Was there some ferocious pecking that I missed out on?”
“Yeah, take your shot at it and get back to me.” I went the other way through the dining room. The wallpaper was red and gold. The feathers of the bird had been as crimson as the comb and the tail a dappled red and gold. It could blend right in and it did. It detached from the far wall, scrambled/slithered under the table, wrapped its tail around a chair and threw it at me.
“Motherf….” I ducked and felt it skim overhead missing me by…okay, not missing me. A wooden leg clipped my ear, stinging like hell. Another chair flew and I dived to the floor firing at the Aivtaras as it flapped wings and rose in the air. It was more of an aerial stagger than soar, but it made it up. And then it dived as fast as it had moved upstairs. My bullet missed and shattered an elaborately gilt-framed mirror.
“You are fried, roasted and barbecued, you squawking freak,” I growled and took off after it as it streaked into the kitchen. There was the rattle of pans, the crashing of dishes, and metallic crash that shook the house. As I passed through the door I saw a huge, double door silver refrigerator tilted over and resting on the island in the middle of the floor. Water was leaking into a pool on the ceramic tile and the damn bird was taking a bath in it. Preening and washing its feathers, but from the spark in its round eye, cleanliness wasn’t really its concern. It was playing with me. A brain the size of a walnut, and it was playing with me.
I didn’t even have time to aim this time. It launched through the air and torpedoed through a leaded glass window that separated the kitchen from another room. Glass flew and then crunched under my feet as I passed the window and went through the next door. There was a gleaming washer and dryer now dented beyond repair, but no bird. I hit the next door and ended up by the stairs again and the back door. Outside Mr. G. was bent over and calmly gardening. Pulling up dead weeds, he was planting what looked like a hundred cheery yellow mums. It would take him forever, grubbing in the dirt until the biting twilight chill. What an incomprehensibly miserable way to spend a day, and at that moment I wished wholeheartedly I was him.
From the den I heard more crashing, the sound of metal thunking into plaster and the rare sound of Nik cursing. When I reached the room he was watching the large couch warily. “It’s behind it, and it’s unbelievably fast.”
“Tell me about it,” I gritted.
I fired through the couch back methodically, stuffing flying through the air. There was a screech, whimper, then a fading squawk, and I was totally not buying it. I waited a beat, then said, “You check it out.”
“It’s a rooster, Cal. A quick one, to be sure, but just a rooster,” Nik commented patiently.
“Yeah, a chicken. You check it out and bring me back a wing and a thigh.” I took a step back and, almost simultaneously with the movement, the couch flew towards us. I ducked and Niko threw himself to one side. The couch missed us, but by inches only. That constrictor tail was obviously spring loaded.
Now it was roosting, occasionally soaring around it, then roosting again in an elaborate gold and crystal chandelier overhead. I aimed and Niko put his hand on my arm. “No, it’s been done. Let me.” He hefted a dagger and tossed it with exacting care. And he nailed it in and half way through the tail tip. It was thrashing so much that it was amazing he hit it all. Although that didn’t help much when the tail continued to whip about…this time with a pointed spike of steel added to the beak of death.
“Helpful. You are the king.”
Slitted eyes took me in. “There are more blades where that came from, and not all of them have rooster written on them.”
And that’s when the shit hit the fan, or, more accurately, hit us. White and brown bird crap splattered my shoulder and down one arm. It nailed Nik on top of his blonde head, which almost made it worth it. The narrowed eyes went from me to the Aitvaras and five more small blades appeared in hand. “And I used to like birds too.” Two blades flew. “Falcons, for example, noble hunters.” Two more. “A hawk, something to aspire to.” The last one. “Roosters, I do not care for.”
Three blades missed due to the creature’s unnatural speed, but two hit…both in the tail. It didn’t faze it at all. It disappeared again, this time back towards the stairs and through another door. Literally. Right through it. Following, we found ourselves in a large, roomy garage with two cars. They were classic cars. What kind, I didn’t have any idea. But they were old and huge, one with gleaming paint, sweeping fenders, and a winged hood ornament, and the other a rusted wreck obviously in the middle of being restored. There was a tank of parts soaking in a strong smelling fluid. There were also a few feathers floating on the surface.
I almost twitched at the sight of them. “Okay, hands down, we’re the most deadly things walking Staten Island today. So what the hell?” I said, mostly to myself, with disgust.
Niko was circling the cars. “It’s the rooster of the apocalypse. They didn’t mention it along with the blood red moon and the four horsemen, but I have no doubt that is what we’re dealing with.”
It was. As it arrowed from beneath the car closest to me, knocked me flat with a slap of its muscular serpentine tail and vanished back in the house, I stared at the ceiling and thought, yep, rooster of the apocalypse. It was the only explanation.
I scrambled back up and headed after it and Nik, both of whom were heading back up the stairs. As I pounded up the stairs, I panted, “We need a net. Why the hell didn’t we bring a net?”
“Perhaps because we don’t have one?” Niko was wiping birdshit off of his hair and finally seemed equally as annoyed as I was.
No net, but I knew where I could get one. Seeing no sign of the Aitvaras, I ran to the bedroom and pulled the embroidered silk and velvet cover off the bed. “Got one,” I called.
“I have something as well. It’s in the bathroom.”
I met Niko at the smaller bath off the hall and hefted the material. “You want to herd or catch?”
He herded and I caught. As it flew out the door, I swept it up in the cover, shoved the waving tail in while avoided the imbedded daggers and tied a knot in the cloth. “Got you, you little bastard.” Satisfied words, proud words, wrong words. There was a belching sound, smoke, then flames shooting through the material…they soared up to three feet away and set the tapestry on the wall on fire.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I exclaimed as the fire also consumed one third of the makeshift cloth bag that held the damn chicken and out it went. Back down the stairs and I let it go as the wall itself began to char and burn. I contemplated it and exhaled. “Think we can give the money back?”
Niko ignored the question and went back downstairs himself only to return seconds later with a fire extinguisher. Putting out the fire with a few blasts of white powder, he said, “I have an idea.”
“And that would be?” I asked as the smoke alarm continued to wail and the headache I was nursing ramped up a notch to pound in unison.
“This is a CO2 extinguisher.” He held it up. “Mr. Grxxl kept it by the tank of flammable cleaner he uses for the car parts. It’s cold.”
“And snakes don’t like the cold,” I said with dawning satisfaction.
“Exactly. At last, something you remember from your schooling.”
It took another twenty minutes to corner it again, this time in the master bath, and Niko coated it but good. After emptying the extinguisher on it, we ended up with a sluggish, half comatose demonic chicken. Curled up on the blue and ivory tile floor, it’s tail was looped and its head was tucked under its wing as it snoozed. It was defenseless, vulnerable…all that was missing was the cornbread stuffing.
“Well?” I said, shifting from foot to foot.
“Well?” Eyebrows lifted.
I nudged the scaly tail with the toe of my sneaker. “I caught it. You cook it.”
“You caught it for almost two point five seconds. Why don’t you kill it?” Despite the dried bird crap in his hair, Niko now appeared to be enjoying himself.
There was a sleepy cluck as the wing lifted to cover the head further. “Goddamnit.” I leaned back against the doorframe. I’d killed a Bishop Fish without blinking an eye, but he’d been kidnapping scum. This was just a stupid animal. A stupid supernatural animal, but still just an animal. “So what are we going to do?”
“What if I take care of the Aitvaras and you inform Mr. Grxxl that we’re finished here?”
If not for the fact we’d utterly trashed his house that might’ve been a good deal. In the end, Niko wrapped the fire-singed remains of the comforter around the creature and stuffed it in the trunk of our car. For my part, I left Mr. G. a nice note. Sorry about the mess. We got the bird.
“You know,” I said as the car headed for Rafferty’s place. “We seriously have to think about waivers. Extermination jobs are a bitch.”
“Do be quiet. I have a loaded chicken and I’m not afraid to use it.”
I grinned, but that grin had long faded by the time we were circling Rafferty’s house, peering in the windows. He and Catcher were gone. The furniture was still there, but there was a sense of disuse, not to mention the circulars piling up on the porch. They were gone and had been gone for a while.
This was the house where Rafferty had saved my life. It wasn’t anything to look at, small and plain, but it was Raff and Catcher’s home. If they weren’t here, where the hell were they? As they hadn’t left a message behind, there was no way of knowing.
“Should we break in and look around?” I asked, hand pressed to the glass as I peered into the living room.
“No. That would be an invasion of privacy I do not think Rafferty would tolerate.” Niko tapped my shoulder lightly and I straightened. “If he wanted us to know where they’d gone, he would’ve contacted us. We’ll simply have to wait.”
“Maybe he found a lead on how to cure Catcher.” Catcher was Rafferty’s cousin and he was sick. Sick was beyond Rafferty’s ability to heal.
After one more glance through the window, I followed Nik to the car. We took the Aitvaras and turned it loose in the nature preserve behind Rafferty’s house. The location had been chosen carefully by the healer. What went on his house was best not seen by prying eyes. Whether the chicken would be happy roaming the forest or go infest someone else’s house, I didn’t know or care. I was all about passing the problem on.
We left it curled still sleeping under a tree, tramped out of the woods, and made it back to the car. I gave one last look to the house where I’d literally returned from the dead.
Then, like Rafferty and Catcher, we were gone.
* * *