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Black Beast

By

R.S. Guthrie

Copyright © 2011 by R.S. Guthrie

Kindle Edition

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author.

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Cover Art: iStockphoto

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Author’s Note:

 

Most of the action in this novel takes place in Denver, Colorado, the Metro vicinity, the mountains, and other nearby areas. Certain liberties have been taken in describing the city, its institutions, people, locations, history, etc. The world presented here is entirely fictional, as are its characters, events, departments, and other details. Any resemblance to actual incidents or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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                             To my wife, who has always believed

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PROLOGUE

 

March 30th, 1947 – Tunisia

 

FATHER TERRENCE Macaulay awoke. He smelled the hospital room before he saw it. The odor was indeed antiseptic, but there was a missing element—a subtle cleanliness that permeated American hospitals.

 

So he knew he was a foreigner.

 

Somewhere.

 

His head ached—a dull pounding behind the eyes. He wasn’t under restraint, but the entirety of his body felt immobilized by the sheer density of his overarching pain. He opened his eyes slowly, but he could not see—no more than halos of light, anyway. His vision had apparently not yet conceded the tenuous return to consciousness.

 

He didn’t remember much, not even his name. Not at first. And in those first few minutes of consciousness, amnesia was bliss; comforting somehow—yet the comfort did not come so much from not knowing who he was as it did from the gut realization that he didn’t want to know.

 

The physical pain was enormous, yes, but he could also sense a surrounding emotional anguish out there, waiting in the peripheral shadows of his mind. Terrible memories, creeping around the dark recesses, waiting for him to misstep so that they might pounce.

 

Parts of his memory did eventually come back to him, but none of them rushed in like a bull; rather, the remembrances filed in like a persistent army of fire ants.

 

Two factions of his mind played a game of question and answer:

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Two factions of his mind played a game of question and answer:

 

How did I come to be here?

 

(You came because you were needed.)

 

Someone needed my help.

 

(Yes.)

 

The Ben Younes family.

 

(Yes.)

 

 Little Ramzi.

 

(The boy.)

 

Poor little Ramzi.

 

(A casualty of the holy war, Father.)

 

So young, so innocent in all of this.

 

(You did to him what had to be done.)

 

 I will never concede that. Never.

 

(To believe less would be to call yourself murderer.)

 

Perhaps that’s true.

 

(No, it is not. You are a savior. A warrior of Ardincaple.)

 

How long have I been under?

 

(Not long enough. It will never be long enough.)

 

Where am I?

 

 (Where you always are. Where you are required to be.)

 

But where AM I?

 

(What is the difference? What has ever been the difference??)

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How long have I been under?

 

(Not long enough. It will never be long enough.)

 

Where am I?

 

 (Where you always are. Where you are required to be.)

 

But where AM I?

 

(What is the difference? What has ever been the difference??)

 

The events played back through his head—the exorcism, the police, Ramzi—suddenly Father Macaulay remembered the fight; the terrible struggle with the beast. He reached down to his left leg in a panic. With the quick movements, fresh tendrils of pain rose and climbed atop those before them.

 

“We couldn’t save it,” a voice with a thick Arabic accent said.

 

“What?” said the Father.

 

“Your leg. I’m afraid it was injured beyond repair.”

 

“Beyond repair.”

 

“Yes. Very unfortunate. We did our best, however.”

 

Father Macaulay stopped reaching for a moment. He squinted, but all he could glean was a dark-skinned shape standing at the foot of the bed. A white coat, perhaps?

 

“I’m Doctor Rashid,” the man said.

 

The priest tried to speak but the inside of his mouth was far too arid and caked—his tongue swollen like a piece of shoe leather. He clacked and made a motion with the fingers on a raised hand.

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The priest tried to speak but the inside of his mouth was far too arid and caked—his tongue swollen like a piece of shoe leather. He clacked and made a motion with the fingers on a raised hand.

 

“Water, yes, I’m so sorry,” Rashid said, and hustled to the nightstand.

 

Macaulay closed his eyes and listened to the welcome sound of water being poured into a glass. The man put an extra pillow behind his head so Father Macaulay could sip carefully. The water was cool, only slightly above room temperature, but it tasted like sweet honey nectar.

 

“How long?” the priest managed, after a second drink.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“How long have I been unconscious?”

 

“I’m afraid it has been well over a week, my friend.”

 

Macaulay closed his eyes again and let his left hand wander cautiously down toward his left thigh.

 

We couldn’t save it.

 

The pain told him his leg was there! He could feel his foot; in fact, ithurt, for God’s sake! He could feel his toes, his calf where it pushed into the mattress and the linen as it rested on his shin. But as his hand slid to where his knee ought to have been, he found nothing but empty space beneath the hospital blanket. His leg was gone.

 

He now remembered the outcome of that horrible night.

 

The night Ramzi died.

 

(He did not DIE, Father—you KILLED HIM.)

 

It was an exorcism.

 

(It was that, and more.)

 

An exorcism gone terribly wrong.

 

(YOUR exorcism.)

 

You said yourself, I did what I could.

 

(But the parents believed you!)

 

Believed WHAT?

 

(That you would save their little boy.)

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(He did not DIE, Father—you KILLED HIM.)

 

It was an exorcism.

 

(It was that, and more.)

 

An exorcism gone terribly wrong.

 

(YOUR exorcism.)

 

You said yourself, I did what I could.

 

(But the parents believed you!)

 

Believed WHAT?

 

(That you would save their little boy.)

 

That was not possible.

 

(It is NEVER possible.)

 

Then why did they believe?

 

(You promised them.)

 

I did nothing of the sort.

 

(Your eyes.)

 

My eyes?

 

(Your kindness.)

 

What?

 

(It is your compassion that gives them hope.)

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What?

 

(It is your compassion that gives them hope.)

 

Is that so wrong?

 

(Yes. It is wrong to offer hope where none should exist.)

 

The beast nearly killed me.

 

(You killed the beast.)

 

Yes.

 

(Bête Noire).

 

The Black Beast.

 

(The BOY.)

 

NO!

 

The monster had shredded his leg as he lost consciousness; shredded it—bone and all—as if it were made of rice paper. Stole his leg before he could place the Crucifix of Ardincaple deep into the creature’s dark heart.  

 

“Have I had any…has, has anyone come by?”

 

“Yes, Father. Another priest. He came at noon, each of the first three days. I haven’t seen him since,” the doctor said.

 

“Did he say anything to you? His name?”

 

“Father Rule.”

 

“Did he leave any word?”

 

Rashid smiled. “For another time, Father. You need rest.”

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“Did he leave any word?”

 

Rashid smiled. “For another time, Father. You need rest.”

 

“Please,” Father Macaulay asked him.

 

The doctor moved to a cabinet and opened it. He returned with something in his outstretched hand.

 

“He left you an envelope. And he said to tell you to be well.”

 

Macaulay took the letter. When the doctor moved across the small ward to look at another patient, he opened the parchment.

 

Father Macaulay,

 

First, my prayers for you; that you might reconcile what was lost these three nights prior, my old friend. Appendages pale in comparison to human life. We’ve seen many things together, you and I, but I fear our partnership (and not our friendship) has come to an end. You well know I will not be able to protect you from the votes any longer. The Church no longer accepts your doctrines, Father. Nor mine, I suppose, but I’m better at keeping them secret.

 

In some ways I pray that the doctor is correct, and that your memory has abandoned you—and that it might stay so. It would be a blessing, my friend, to forget. The images of our final quest together will assault me for all my time in this world and the next. Indeed I’m afraid there is no absolution for what we have done. Poor, poor Ramzi. You did what was necessary; we both know that. But the ramifications.

 

I have your journal. And your crucifix. It did not seem safe, nor prudent, to leave them with you. When you are well—when we see each other again—I will return them. Your secrets will be well-protected whilst in my care. All God’s blessings to you, Mac.

 

Ever yours,

                                                    Father Rule

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care. All God’s blessings to you, Mac.

 

Ever yours,

                                                        Father Rule

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“Deliver those who are being taken

away to death, and those who are

staggering to slaughter,

O hold them back…”

~Proverbs 24:11-12


CHAPTER ONE

 

Colorado, 2011

 

 

THE COLORADO State Penitentiary is one hundred and fifty miles from downtown Denver. The drive took me a little over three hours, a journey through the explosion of early summer, along highways hewed through the hypnotic, incandescent glory of the Rocky Mountain backlands. The traffic thinned after I left Interstate 25, taking US-50 westward out of Pueblo.

 

The CSP is in Canon City, at the eastern end of the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River. It was a peaceful journey through the slopes of Ponderosa Pine, splashed with the early summer bloom of purple Locoweed with its coiled fruits and fleshy, pale-green stems mottled with red.

 

I pulled the fully restored ‘51 International L-110 pickup into a spot marked “visitor” and throttled her twice before turning off the ignition. The engine ticked rhythmically against the still morning. 

 

It was shaping up as a warm June day in Colorado, the sun blistering white in a calm, cloudless, ocean-blue sky. My old forearm crutch rides in the gun rack in the rear window, one rung above the ghost of my father’s Remington Model 700 Classic.

 

That gun traveled in this truck, hunting season or not, right up until the lymphoma finished feasting on his insides and he gave the gun to my brother, the truck to me, and died.

 

Paddy Macaulay died as he lived: no fanfare, fuss, or notoriety. He pulled the death card, stretched the hand as long as he could on the measly ante he got from the county, and met the end with the soft dignity of the old Scottish lad he was. Mom was gone ten years by then and he told me that he’d go for as long as God would have it, but he missed her, and he wasn’t the kind to call a misdeal.

 

I hadn’t used the crutch in years, not since the first of several prosthetics for highly active above-knee amputees such as military personnel, firefighters, cops, and the like.

 

As I moved up the walkway I removed my sunglasses, squinting hard against the angry brilliance of the high altitude sun. The rays felt like a frying pan on the skin. It was only ten in the morning and maybe seventy-five degrees but there was already a thin film of sweat on my forehead and my armpits were damp. I squeezed the brim of a well-worn Bemidji State hockey cap and pulled it over my eyes.

 

The first months following the loss of my leg required a kind of determination I really didn’t think I had—the kind that requires a long excavation. The tools we find for such work are not modern and well-honed but crude implements, forged from furnaces in the dank, rancid cellars of the soul where the only fuel is loss and despair and the consuming fear of never having things back the way they used to be.

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That gun traveled in this truck, hunting season or not, right up until the lymphoma finished feasting on his insides and he gave the gun to my brother, the truck to me, and died.

 

Paddy Macaulay died as he lived: no fanfare, fuss, or notoriety. He pulled the death card, stretched the hand as long as he could on the measly ante he got from the county, and met the end with the soft dignity of the old Scottish lad he was. Mom was gone ten years by then and he told me that he’d go for as long as God would have it, but he missed her, and he wasn’t the kind to call a misdeal.

 

I hadn’t used the crutch in years, not since the first of several prosthetics for highly active above-knee amputees such as military personnel, firefighters, cops, and the like.

 

As I moved up the walkway I removed my sunglasses, squinting hard against the angry brilliance of the high altitude sun. The rays felt like a frying pan on the skin. It was only ten in the morning and maybe seventy-five degrees but there was already a thin film of sweat on my forehead and my armpits were damp. I squeezed the brim of a well-worn Bemidji State hockey cap and pulled it over my eyes.

 

The first months following the loss of my leg required a kind of determination I really didn’t think I had—the kind that requires a long excavation. The tools we find for such work are not modern and well-honed but crude implements, forged from furnaces in the dank, rancid cellars of the soul where the only fuel is loss and despair and the consuming fear of never having things back the way they used to be.

 

“Bobby Mac,” the familiar face at the desk said as I entered the reception area.

 

Nate Sanders, a hulking, 280-pound black man with enormous mutton chop sideburns and an effeminate, tiny voice had joined the Sheriff’s Department about the same time I was getting out of the academy.

 

“Nate.” I accepted his meaty paw and shook it firmly.

 

Our sons used to play ice hockey in the same youth league. He was divorced around the same time my wife Isabel died.

 

“So Cole plays college hockey,” Nate said, gesturing to the cap.

 

“For the Beavers, yeah. I still don’t get that game, though.”

 

“Hoops was your game, Mac. On two legs or one, if you don’t mind me saying.”

 

“We adjust, Nate. We play the cards.”

 

“You here for Durning?”

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Department about the same time I was getting out of the academy.

 

“Nate.” I accepted his meaty paw and shook it firmly.

 

Our sons used to play ice hockey in the same youth league. He was divorced around the same time my wife Isabel died.

 

“So Cole plays college hockey,” Nate said, gesturing to the cap.

 

“For the Beavers, yeah. I still don’t get that game, though.”

 

“Hoops was your game, Mac. On two legs or one, if you don’t mind me saying.”

 

“We adjust, Nate. We play the cards.”

 

“You here for Durning?”

 

“Yeah. His sister—Lucinda—she asked me to come up early. Said Durning really needs to see me. She asked for the favor.”

 

Sanders shrugged. “His sister? Go figure. I’ll need your piece and your phone.”

 

I handed over the Beretta 96 Brigadier Inox 40 caliber from my holster and signed the register. Nate gave me a special visitor’s badge that told the other corrections officers and trustees I was a cop. I also pulled my DPD badge and clipped it to my belt.

 

“Those Italians sure can make a piece, can’t they,” Nate said, admiring the stainless steel pistol. “Twelve shots?”

 

“Yeah, eleven in the mag, one in the chute. Faster reload with the beveled magazine. Also has the reinforced slides.”

 

“This is the forty-caliber Smith and Wesson they made for INS?”

 

“Yep. What’s up with Durning, Nate? He find Jesus or something?”

 

“Dunno. I guess he wants to make amends,” Nate said, shaking his head and buzzing the next gate. “I say to hell with him. Tonight he goes.”

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“This is the forty-caliber Smith and Wesson they made for INS?”

 

“Yep. What’s up with Durning, Nate? He find Jesus or something?”

 

“Dunno. I guess he wants to make amends,” Nate said, shaking his head and buzzing the next gate. “I say to hell with him. Tonight he goes.”

 

“Thanks, Nate,” I said, and attached the CSP badge to my shirt pocket.

 

“You take care, Mac. Tell your son ‘hey’.”

 

Cole was home for the summer, staying at the house. We didn’t have a lot to say to each other.

 

I nodded and moved through the first gate.

 

Another guard met me and escorted me down a long sterile corridor, through another checkpoint, and to a door that opened into a large courtyard. We crossed through under the perfect azure sky, past two corrections officers who supervised the activity of a solitary maximum-security prisoner, shackled in full restraints and chain-smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

 

One of the beefy guards nodded behind mirrored twenty-dollar shades and stared. They couldn’t turn from the one-legged sideshow.

 

I was used to it.

 

“Work here long?” I asked, making idle chatter.

 

“Almost there,” replied the officer.

 

Life for a death row inmate at the CSP consisted of twenty-three hours in an isolated cell, one hour per day for shower and exercise. All meals, visitors, and bathroom functions happened during the twenty-three hours cell-bound. No exceptions other than the infirmary or the morgue.

 

The CSP had a special segregation unit called the Execution Suite. During warrant week, a seven-day period established by the governor, the condemned prisoner was moved to the Execution Suite to await delivery of sentence by lethal injection.

 

Eb Durning was scheduled to ride the river at twenty-one hundred hours.

 

9PM.

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visitors, and bathroom functions happened during the twenty-three hours cell-bound. No exceptions other than the infirmary or the morgue.

 

The CSP had a special segregation unit called the Execution Suite. During warrant week, a seven-day period established by the governor, the condemned prisoner was moved to the Execution Suite to await delivery of sentence by lethal injection.

 

Eb Durning was scheduled to ride the river at twenty-one hundred hours.

 

9PM.

 

We entered the interior of Hotel California—so called by the hacks and cons—through a large, double-shielded door with another gated checkpoint. I was asked to sign a second register and also to read a short list of dos and don’ts.

 

“You’re the guy,” the officer at the station desk said.

 

“I’m the guy,” I said. “Detective Macaulay.”

 

“He got your partner, too?”

 

I pushed the paperwork back across a pine-top desk scarred with cigarette burns. “It was a long time ago.”

 

“Time for the fiddler to get his. Maintain the yellow line,” he replied, the eyes falling involuntarily to where my jean fit too loose on the prosthetic.

 

Like skin over meatless bone.

 

There was a solid, faded yellow stripe that ran down the corridor, five feet from the three holding cells. The guard buzzed me in.

 

Ebony Durning was in the first cell, closest to the guard station. He didn’t get up as I stopped in front of his door but finished drawing on a small roach, extinguishing it by licking the tips of his fore and middle finger and pinching the small coal. There was an audible hiss and the aroma of bad weed: pungent, like something already dead.

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Ebony Durning was in the first cell, closest to the guard station. He didn’t get up as I stopped in front of his door but finished drawing on a small roach, extinguishing it by licking the tips of his fore and middle finger and pinching the small coal. There was an audible hiss and the aroma of bad weed: pungent, like something already dead.

 

“The bulls are lenient here at Hotel California on D-day,” was the first thing he said to me.

 

“I’m glad,” I replied.

 

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leeeeve,” he crooned.

 

“I know the song. Do we have business, Eb?”

 

“They’re gonna do me this time, Detective. No more appeals. The Governor ain’t too friendly to cop killers. Eleven hours and change. Ain’t much of a future.”

 

“More than my partner got.”

 

“Officer Wells, it was. And the old lady at the store,” Durning said. “I sent letters.”

 

He was still supine on the narrow, wall-mounted cot.

 

“Fuck you, Eb. You don’t get to tell me the names.”

 

He swung his long legs to the floor and stood. He was a full six five, all bones and loose flesh. Ganglier than I remembered. Durning’s mother was white and his father black—Eb’s skin was the color of sun-bleached cardboard.

 

“Bobby Mac. Basketball legend.”

 

He threaded his spidery arms through the rungs and leaned on the crossbar, his veins bulging beneath an aqua jailhouse tattoo that was too faded to make out.

 

He looked awful: afro reduced to patches and tufts, like a lawn with fungal rot. His complexion was dull and fishy.

 

“What’s this about, Eb? I came early because of Lucinda. She said this was important.”

 

“They’re gonna pump my veins full of potassium chloride. Last cocktail I’ll ever have, Mac, stop my heart dead. Is that important enough?”

 

“You’ve earned your station, Eb, and then some. A little late for redemption, don’t you think?”

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“Bobby Mac. Basketball legend.”

 

He threaded his spidery arms through the rungs and leaned on the crossbar, his veins bulging beneath an aqua jailhouse tattoo that was too faded to make out.

 

He looked awful: afro reduced to patches and tufts, like a lawn with fungal rot. His complexion was dull and fishy.

 

“What’s this about, Eb? I came early because of Lucinda. She said this was important.”

 

“They’re gonna pump my veins full of potassium chloride. Last cocktail I’ll ever have, Mac, stop my heart dead. Is that important enough?”

 

“You’ve earned your station, Eb, and then some. A little late for redemption, don’t you think?”

 

“I don’t believe in that shit.”

 

“Good. You have a nice trip. I won’t be losing any sleep over it.”

 

He was hollow-eyed, as if he’d already checked out with the bellhop. His were the marble eyes of the shark: lifeless.

 

“Do you remember the nineteen-eighty-five State Championship, Mac?”

 

“Ancient history,” I said.

 

Durning played forward for Mullen and I played for Cherry Creek. The game exhausted three overtimes before Durning hit a running jumper with time expiring to end our run of three consecutive championships.

 

He bottomed out three years later when a hooker overdosed in his small apartment on Colfax and he tossed her in a dumpster at King Soopers with a case full of needles with his prints all over them.

 

Since doing the unlawful death time he hit a couple foul balls—county lockup stuff, mostly. Then he poked one out of the park by participating in the murder of my partner Danny Wells and an old woman—the oriental shopkeeper who ran a local market on Broadway.

 

Durning got into his getaway car in the parking lot, bouncing off the other vehicles like a pinball, and crashed into my patrol car, pinning me and turning my left leg to ground round.

 

“We were so fucking happening in eighty-five, Mac. Like shit just turning to gold.”

 

And for a moment I saw it: the perfection of adolescence—when the slate is clean and everything is possible; when all that mattered were how many points per game and who was getting laid.

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apartment on Colfax and he tossed her in a dumpster at King Soopers with a case full of needles with his prints all over them.

 

Since doing the unlawful death time he hit a couple foul balls—county lockup stuff, mostly. Then he poked one out of the park by participating in the murder of my partner Danny Wells and an old woman—the oriental shopkeeper who ran a local market on Broadway.

 

Durning got into his getaway car in the parking lot, bouncing off the other vehicles like a pinball, and crashed into my patrol car, pinning me and turning my left leg to ground round.

 

“We were so fucking happening in eighty-five, Mac. Like shit just turning to gold.”

 

And for a moment I saw it: the perfection of adolescence—when the slate is clean and everything is possible; when all that mattered were how many points per game and who was getting laid.

 

His flat eyes flickered with the memories of a better time—a distant, furtive glow at the center of his being. It was as if he were back there: the squeaking of gum rubber on hardwood, the roar of the crowd, the perfect backspin of the ball as it arced through space, the crisp snap of the net.

 

It was a magical time. But it was over.

 

“You brought the world crashing down, Eb. No one else.”

 

“True enough,” he allowed. “But I never meant for it to get as fucked up as it did. You gotta know that, Mac.”

 

“Is this an apology for getting my partner killed and sacrificing my leg, Eb? Because if it is I think you need to spend a little more time in front of a mirror.”

 

“You know I never wanted it to go down like that, man. C’mon, Mac, we played ball together. It’s your leg.”

 

“I know damn well whose leg it is, Eb. And what about my partner? What about Danny? He had a wife and kid.”

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“You know I never wanted it to go down like that, man. C’mon, Mac, we played ball together. It’s your leg.”

 

“I know damn well whose leg it is, Eb. And what about my partner? What about Danny? He had a wife and kid.”

 

“Well, I guess I ain’t too proud about any of it.”

 

“Damn. A dozen years to reach such profundity. You gotta love the system.”

 

“Listen, this just ain’t comin’ out right. I-I wanted to tell you if I could somehow give you your leg back, I would. This ain’t redemption because I don’t believe in that shit, Mac.

 

“I wake up nights and see that leg, all ruined and shit. It will be the last thing I see. I have no doubt.”

 

He seemed to mean it, and I had relinquished my clutch on pity years earlier, but now, standing in front of Durning, the horror show came rolling back in. All I could think was how much I wanted to see him suck that last breath; watch his body spasm involuntarily against the clutch of the chemical reaper.

 

Exit stage left, the curtain falls.

 

“Tell it to the spiritual advisor, Eb. I don’t have any more room.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Durning said.

 

“Not a chance, man. No vacancy.”

 

“You want to know the funny thing, Mac?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I play it over and over, and I don’t want it to happen, but I know if it went down the same way, I’d probably be caught up in it just the same.

 

“I was crazy on the shit, man, and my perception wasn’t right, but that’s how it played. It’s fucked up, man, I know that. It’s hard to live with.”

 

“You want to know something, Eb? If they’d let me push the plunger on the syringe I’d do it right now. No hesitation; no questions asked.

 

That’s some messed up shit, too, but I’ll live with it.”

 

“You gonna be there for the big show?”

 

I ignored the question.

 

“Hold Lucinda’s hand. She couldn’t ask you herself.”

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down the same way, I’d probably be caught up in it just the same.

 

“I was crazy on the shit, man, and my perception wasn’t right, but that’s how it played. It’s fucked up, man, I know that. It’s hard to live with.”

 

“You want to know something, Eb? If they’d let me push the plunger on the syringe I’d do it right now. No hesitation; no questions asked.

 

That’s some messed up shit, too, but I’ll live with it.”

 

“You gonna be there for the big show?”

 

I ignored the question.

 

“Hold Lucinda’s hand. She couldn’t ask you herself.”

 

“You could have left that in a message with the PA,” I said.

 

“There’s something else,” he said, fidgeting nervously.

 

“I’m still here.”

 

“Maybe nothing, but I’ve been going over it for a long time.”

 

“Time’s running out, Eb.”

 

“Something was strange that night, the night we knocked over that store. We shoulda been in and out, but Jackson took too much time. He let the old lady see him. Said that was why we had to kill her.”

 

He was talking about Arliss Jackson, a homeboy Durning cruised with; the only perp I had ever killed. It was Jackson who shot my partner before I could get a draw on him. At trial, Durning claimed it was Jackson who wanted to stay and finish the old Chinese woman—allegedly because the old woman called Jackson “hei gui”, meaning “black ghost”—on the streets.

21

the old woman called Jackson “hei gui”, meaning “black ghost”—on the streets.

 

Chinese slang for “nigger”.

 

“I heard this crap at trial.”

 

“We shoulda never been there, Mac. Shoulda been long gone. I think maybe Jackson wanted the cops to get there. I think he was counting on it.”

 

“You have any reasoning on this?”

 

“A week before, Jackson gets this visit from a guy. Big white dude. The two of them, they go off in the white guy’s car. I asked around when Arliss wouldn’t come clean, started acting all strange and shit. Somebody recognized the description. Guy’s a big dumb muscle-thug they call Brain. Works for Calypso.”

 

Calypso was a major pot smuggler from Ocho Rios, Jamaica, who ran much of the dope business in the city. Vice and the DEA had a major hard-on for Calypso. Jackson had been small time; a neighborhood punk who stole televisions and boosted cars during Bronco games.

 

An arrangement between him and the big Jamaican made no sense.

 

“What does this have to do with anything, Eb? Jackson is dead.”

 

“Arliss was a gambler. Played the ponies. Owed a lot of money. No secret about that. Word was he tried to set up a dope deal that went south. Owed some even bigger scratch to Calypso.

 

“Dude’s henchmen carry blowtorches, Mac, they don’t fuck around. I think Arliss was scared. Maybe he cut a deal.”

 

“To kill my partner,” I said.

 

“It don’t make sense, Mac. I can’t figure out why we were still there. What the hell does Arliss Jackson care if some old woman calls him nigger? Arliss was careful, man, he didn’t want to go back to prison. It don’t figure.”

 

“The idea of prison does that to some people. Makes a scumbag willing to do what he has to do. It doesn’t always make sense.”

 

“We shoulda been gone when you got there, Mac. He took his time with that old woman. I almost booked.”

 

“That would have been the best decision you ever made. You’ve earned the needle, Eb. I gotta go.” 

 

Durning lowered his head and pressed it against the bars. “My hair’s been falling out all week. I was never even scared or nothing and it started falling out just the same.”

 

He rubbed his left hand along the top of his head. He looked like someone had taken the shears to him while he slept.

 

“Do you know about Samson, Mac?”

 

He was looking up, tears brimming in those lifeless eyes.

 

“His strength was in his hair. I wasn’t even scared, Mac, and the shit started fallin’ out anyway.”

 

I stared at him. I could imagine the stress he was feeling but I didn’t care. Then again, maybe all this was just Durning’s way of tuning up for the long trip.

 

“Do you believe in God, Mac?” he said.

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“To kill my partner,” I said.

 

“It don’t make sense, Mac. I can’t figure out why we were still there. What the hell does Arliss Jackson care if some old woman calls him nigger? Arliss was careful, man, he didn’t want to go back to prison. It don’t figure.”

 

“The idea of prison does that to some people. Makes a scumbag willing to do what he has to do. It doesn’t always make sense.”

 

“We shoulda been gone when you got there, Mac. He took his time with that old woman. I almost booked.”

 

“That would have been the best decision you ever made. You’ve earned the needle, Eb. I gotta go.” 

 

Durning lowered his head and pressed it against the bars. “My hair’s been falling out all week. I was never even scared or nothing and it started falling out just the same.”

 

He rubbed his left hand along the top of his head. He looked like someone had taken the shears to him while he slept.

 

“Do you know about Samson, Mac?”

 

He was looking up, tears brimming in those lifeless eyes.

 

“His strength was in his hair. I wasn’t even scared, Mac, and the shit started fallin’ out anyway.”

 

I stared at him. I could imagine the stress he was feeling but I didn’t care. Then again, maybe all this was just Durning’s way of tuning up for the long trip.

 

“Do you believe in God, Mac?” he said.

 

The question startled me. I didn’t answer.

 

“Do you believe he will forgive you if you’re truly sorry?”

 

“I believe in God, Eb. You worry about the forgiving part.”

 

He turned around and shuffled back to the bed. He sat down slowly, like a decrepit old man, steadying himself with shaking arms. He was sweating and I again smelled the reality of his predicament. It permeated the cell, the hoary smell of the end.

 

If Hell had a distinct odor, this was it. I think Eb Durning had figured that one.

 

“You want to know something? That thing about having anything for your last meal is bullshit. You gotta order off a menu,” he said.

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“Do you believe in God, Mac?” he said.

 

The question startled me. I didn’t answer.

 

“Do you believe he will forgive you if you’re truly sorry?”

 

“I believe in God, Eb. You worry about the forgiving part.”

 

He turned around and shuffled back to the bed. He sat down slowly, like a decrepit old man, steadying himself with shaking arms. He was sweating and I again smelled the reality of his predicament. It permeated the cell, the hoary smell of the end.

 

If Hell had a distinct odor, this was it. I think Eb Durning had figured that one.

 

“You want to know something? That thing about having anything for your last meal is bullshit. You gotta order off a menu,” he said.

 

“That so?”

 

“I’m havin’ me a plate of meatloaf, two slices of whole wheat bread, and some ketchup packets, because when I would come home from basketball practice my moms would slice me a big piece and make a cold meatloaf sandwich.

 

“Things was golden then, Mac. Golden.”

 

“I’ll be seeing you around, Eb.”

 

“Don’t forget about Lucinda, okay Mac? She got no one and she trusts you.”

 

His words were fading, as if he was getting sleepy, but he was still sitting erect, staring blankly at the wall.

 

“She’s my sister and now she got no one.”

 

“Lucinda will be fine,” I said as I moved toward the exit.

 

“Vaya con Dios, Mac,” he said quietly.

 

“Not me, Eb. You need him more.”

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erect, staring blankly at the wall.

 

“She’s my sister and now she got no one.”

 

“Lucinda will be fine,” I said as I moved toward the exit.

 

“Vaya con Dios, Mac,” he said quietly.

 

“Not me, Eb. You need him more.”

 

~~~

 

Outside I found a grassy patch of shade under a dense clump of young Aspen near the truck and dropped down, swallowing the fresh air in deep, greedy gulps.

 

I no longer dreamed about Jackson, but the grisly visage of the three sucking chest wounds was never far from center stage. Every cop reacts differently to killing, but it’s my belief that no one can fully deny the beast within that feeds on the power such action implies.

 

It’s a grotesque, exhilarating feeling I will never be able to fully describe.

 

The visit with Durning had stirred up a macabre flash of slides in my mind. I could see Jackson rushing us from the market; gun leading, eyes fixated; the concussion of the heavy loads as he fired.

 

I could hear the back of Danny Wells’ head splitting apart—see my Beretta placing three slugs in Jackson’s center mass, stopping him cold and turning him into a hundred and eighty pounds of falling meat.

 

Durning escaped through the back of the store at the service entrance, but there were already two more squad cars arriving. He slipped into the parking lot and made it to the getaway car.

 

I was standing over my dead partner, trying to get it together and decide what to do next when I heard Durning bring the engine to life. I came around the front of our patrol car, low and coiled, gun ready.

 

Durning never saw me. He was stoned, panicked, foot to the floor—trying to get control of the old Cutlass. The engine was roaring as the huge boat careened into one car and then another. Three uniformed officers materialized from behind and Durning saw them bar his exit, guns drawn, shouting for him to stop.

 

He jerked the wheel, and the last thing I saw was the shock on his face as he bore down on me.

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I was standing over my dead partner, trying to get it together and decide what to do next when I heard Durning bring the engine to life. I came around the front of our patrol car, low and coiled, gun ready.

 

Durning never saw me. He was stoned, panicked, foot to the floor—trying to get control of the old Cutlass. The engine was roaring as the huge boat careened into one car and then another. Three uniformed officers materialized from behind and Durning saw them bar his exit, guns drawn, shouting for him to stop.

 

He jerked the wheel, and the last thing I saw was the shock on his face as he bore down on me.

 

We’d never been friends, Eb and I, but we shared a part of history. The satisfaction I felt with the knowledge that his life was now on a grisly timer was not unlike what I felt when the Beretta fired and I saw the horror on Arliss Jackson’s face as the life was torn from him.

 

Both came from a place inside I knew well; the same place I buried the last few months of my wife’s life, when she was ravaged by the sickness.

 

My duty was to be above contempt and vengeance and loathing, sworn to protect under the fragile but vital curtains of code and law. Yet all I could think about was how glad I was to see Durning suffering through his last day on this earth.

 

I removed my DPD badge and polished the gold center with my thumb.

 

It was the patrol officer’s badge and we all wore it, even the detectives.

 

The three primary elements were the star, the eagle, and the seal. The triumvirate represented the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

 

The silver eagle on top represented the police officer’s readiness to defend the rights of the individual.

 

The seven points of the star represented the qualities of each officer: honesty, integrity, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, and charity.

 

That shield represented the bedrock of everything I believed, symbol of the faith I had in a world that was still a worthwhile place in which to have a wife and raise a son…

 

And I would toss it into the incinerator for five minutes alone with Durning.

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The silver eagle on top represented the police officer’s readiness to defend the rights of the individual.

 

The seven points of the star represented the qualities of each officer: honesty, integrity, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, and charity.

 

That shield represented the bedrock of everything I believed, symbol of the faith I had in a world that was still a worthwhile place in which to have a wife and raise a son…

 

And I would toss it into the incinerator for five minutes alone with Durning.

 

~~~

 

I ate a large, early lunch at Captain D’s Seafood: a basket of boiled shrimp, a fresh piece of lemon-basted trout, a helping of wild rice, and two pints of Railyard black and tan.

 

I paid the bill and took the truck west toward the Royal Gorge and the world’s largest suspension bridge, one thousand feet above the Arkansas River.

 

Durning had given me something to think about. His conspiracy theory had been eating at me all morning, like a rat chewing on the basement wiring.

 

Danny Wells and I were partners out of Division One and I suppose I knew him as well as anyone. He and his wife, Laurel, seemed happy. I never saw him flirt—at least not more than what would easily fly beneath the Human Resources radar. He drank infrequently, attended the occasional football, hockey, or baseball game.

 

He was your average good guy.

 

Sure, there were cops that were on the take within the department, to think otherwise was foolhardy.

 

But Danny?

 

Calypso wasn’t even in our league, or at least he wasn’t then.

 

The idea that somehow Danny’s death was a setup was so foreign it was laughable. Still, there was something there, something I wasn’t remembering, irritating like a pebble in the shoe.

 

And I was determined to root it out.

27

Sure, there were cops that were on the take within the department, to think otherwise was foolhardy.

 

But Danny?

 

Calypso wasn’t even in our league, or at least he wasn’t then.

 

The idea that somehow Danny’s death was a setup was so foreign it was laughable. Still, there was something there, something I wasn’t remembering, irritating like a pebble in the shoe.

 

And I was determined to root it out.

 

~~~

 

At eight thirty I met Lucinda at the visitor’s lobby. She was attractive in that hardy way of the working tomboy—handsome, not pretty. Back when I was in physical therapy, she came by the hospital regularly, making amends for her brother.

 

It had obviously been a hard twelve years for her. I checked up on occasion. She was working a job at a supermarket days and moonlighting nights as a cocktail waitress in a dive on Federal and 32nd.

 

That day she was dressed in a frumpy gray sweater over plain white blouse, navy skirt that didn’t quite cover her pockmarked knees, and tan flats with no socks.

 

“Bobby,” she sighed as she wrapped her arms about my shoulders and hugged me too hard.

 

I let her linger, smelling the swath of cheap perfume. Lucinda was a good woman and I knew Durning was right about her needing someone to get

28

her through this one final nightmare.

 

“How are you holding up, Lucy?” I said, taking her hand in mine.

 

Lucinda and I had been friendly over the years. I once attended an Easter mass at her church.

 

She pulled away her large prescription glasses and dabbed a handkerchief at wet, dark-brown eyes that bore no discernible resemblance to her brother’s.

 

“Oh, Bobby, I can’t face this.”

 

“You’ll do fine, Lucy. Eb is going to need you there, strong for him,” I said.

 

This seemed to help her and she nodded without speaking.

 

We stood quietly, waiting for the escort.

 

Huddled in the opposite corner of the lobby was a wizened Chinese man and a thirty-something woman. The husband and daughter of the shopkeeper, Ming Huai.

 

Laurel Wells wasn’t coming.

 

There were two other witnesses present: Durning’s newest attorney, a pimply youth from the Public Defender’s office, and an Assistant D.A. from the county: a steam-pressed, attractive woman whose name I couldn’t recall.

 

Lucinda Durning kept her eyes averted to the cold copper-colored tile at her feet, heavy from the shame of the cataclysm her brother had forged.

 

At eight-fifty we were escorted through the sterile administrative corridors to the witness viewing room: a small, nondescript, concrete hut painted off-white. Straight-back wooden chairs were arranged to face a glass window with curtains closed.

 

Lucinda was crying softly and squeezing my hand. She was trembling and I put my arm around her frail, slumped shoulders.

 

At one minute until nine, the curtains opened to reveal Durning in green uniform pants, a green button-down, short-sleeved shirt, strapped to a gurney. The I.V. lines snaked from his left arm. The Warden had already read the death warrant to the condemned man and announced there would be no final statement.

 

Ming Huai’s family was typically stoic. Lucinda burst into open sobs as Durning turned and gazed at her. He looked so weak, more so even than when I had seen him in the cell.

 

But then he moved his head, straining a bit to look directly at me. At first I thought I caught a flicker of relief as he focused on me—but then he did the strangest thing:

 

He grinned.

 

Immediately and without warning, a loud clacking filled the room. The first of the syringes, a saline push to clean the lines. The second release—sodium pentothal—and Durning began to lose consciousness. One pump fired after the other and as the pancuronium bromide interrupted his breathing, Durning’s body began to quake slightly. His hands involuntarily opened and closed. Finally, the potassium chloride stopped his heart and it was over.

 

The entire process took just over two minutes. The coroner entered the execution chamber and pronounced the death of Ebony Durning.

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to the witness viewing room: a small, nondescript, concrete hut painted off-white. Straight-back wooden chairs were arranged to face a glass window with curtains closed.

 

Lucinda was crying softly and squeezing my hand. She was trembling and I put my arm around her frail, slumped shoulders.

 

At one minute until nine, the curtains opened to reveal Durning in green uniform pants, a green button-down, short-sleeved shirt, strapped to a gurney. The I.V. lines snaked from his left arm. The Warden had already read the death warrant to the condemned man and announced there would be no final statement.

 

Ming Huai’s family was typically stoic. Lucinda burst into open sobs as Durning turned and gazed at her. He looked so weak, more so even than when I had seen him in the cell.

 

But then he moved his head, straining a bit to look directly at me. At first I thought I caught a flicker of relief as he focused on me—but then he did the strangest thing:

 

He grinned.

 

Immediately and without warning, a loud clacking filled the room. The first of the syringes, a saline push to clean the lines. The second release—sodium pentothal—and Durning began to lose consciousness. One pump fired after the other and as the pancuronium bromide interrupted his breathing, Durning’s body began to quake slightly. His hands involuntarily opened and closed. Finally, the potassium chloride stopped his heart and it was over.

 

The entire process took just over two minutes. The coroner entered the execution chamber and pronounced the death of Ebony Durning.

30


Black Beast

Book By R.S. Guthrie