TWENTY-SEVEN – PRIZED POSSESSION
Tony recognized one of the men instantly: Angel Whyte. Whyte smiled, his fangs gleaming in the darkness. He was still dressed as Tony had seen him when he died in the alley near the Golden Palm. His suit and tie looked as though they’d been recently pressed, but he smelled bad.
The second man jogged Tony’s memory as well. He was tall, thin, and of African-American descent. In a flash of insight, Tony remembered seeing him read poetry once in a coffee house near Wolfe Community College. Hoake, Tony thought his name was.
The third man Tony didn’t know. But he was a short, very beefy fellow in a stained trench coat. Four day’s unshaven growth covered his chin.
“Get out!” Glory screamed, spinning to face each of the men in turn.
“Why did you leave us, Glory?” asked Hoake. “You know our lives are empty without you.”
“I don’t want you here! I don’t want you!” she replied.
The man in the trench coat smiled. “But we want you, Glory. You’re our bitch; so, bend over and take it like a lady.”
“Keep away from her,” Tony warned, trying to interpose himself between the men and his lover.
Angel smiled and licked the tips of his sharp teeth. “Cofax is right, Glory. Tell your friend not to fuck with us,” he said. “Not unless he wants to get hurt.”
“Yeah,” agreed Cofax. “He fucks with us, we’ll fuck him up real good.”
Fire burned behind Glory’s dark eyes, but it was mingled with fear. “I didn’t summon you,” she said. “Return to the ship and await my commands!”
Hoake shook his head. “Sorry, sweet heart-of-darkness. It doesn’t work that way anymore. You’re out of touch.”
Cofax chuckled. “Yeah. And we want what this jerk has been touching.” He took a step toward Glory.
Tony jumped at him, but Cofax grabbed Tony in midair and tossed him across the room. The artist landed hard on top of where he’d laid aside his clothes to make love. The dagger in his pants pocket bruised his hip as he hit.
Cofax laughed, and the others did as well.
“Quiet some joyboy you’ve got there, Glory,” said the former journalist. “Too bad he doesn’t have the sense that God gave a dog—the sense to know when he’s outmatched.”
Tony slowly got to his knees, his fingers groping for the hidden knife.
“Stay down, man,” advised Hoake. “Cofax is mean when he ain’t had a drink in a while.”
“Yes,” said Angel. “I’ve seen your work, Frost. You might amount to something one day. Don’t make us cut a promising career short.”
“If you harm him, I’ll slay you all!” Glory snarled, but the others weren’t buying it. They laughed and looked hungrily at her.
Tony whipped the dagger out of his pocket and lunged forward, aiming for Cofax’s heart.
But Hoake and Angel proved faster. The black man’s long hands whipped out and seized Tony’s wrist as he lunged past. Angel kicked Tony’s hand, and the dagger flew out of it and across the room. The dagger glanced off the mantelpiece and fell into the fire.
With inhuman speed, Cofax darted forward and pounded his fist into Tony’s solar plexus.
Tony doubled over and all three of them pounced on him like a pack of hungry wolves. From what seemed like a million miles away, Tony heard Glory cry, “No!”
Fists pounded into Tony’s back; claws tore at his naked flesh. He felt their cold limbs overpowering him, smelled their fetid breaths as their fang-lined mouths drew near his neck.
“Dying time!” Cofax announced, gleefully.
Then something lifted the weight from Tony’s shoulders. Cofax paused a moment in puzzlement. Tony spun to see Glory holding Hoake and Angel aloft, one in either hand.
She had transformed. Her long fingers had become claws, her toes talons. Long white feathers sprouted from beneath her arms and her body appeared to be covered with a soft down. Her eyes were large, owl-like eyes, and her mouth a sharp beak.
“Leave… him… alone…!” she shrieked.
She flung Hoake and Angel into the air, and they crashed against the A-frame’s walls.
Tony took the opportunity to kick Cofax in the groin.
But the beefy man merely smiled. “Too late, asshole!” he said. “I been dead from the waist down for a long time.”
He smashed his huge fist across Tony’s jaw. Tony’s world spun, and he slumped back.
As he fell, he saw Glory pull the reporter off him. She raked a long claw across Cofax’s eyes, apparently to prove she meant business. Cofax screamed and staggered back, regrouping with Angel and Hoake.
“Cold white bitch!” Cofax spat. “You can’t take all of us! Not for long!”
“He’s right, Glory. Give it up,” said Hoake. “Give in. We only want to love you.”
“The poet’s right, Cicciolina,” Angel purred. “We only want what’s our due.”
Glory’s shoulders slumped, and she resumed her human form. She crossed to the fireplace and leaned against the mantle.
“Very well,” she said. “You must save him from me, if he will not save himself.”
“That’s the spirit, girl,” said Cofax. “We’ll go easy on you. I promise.”
“Come,” said Angel. He turned and flew out of the shattered sliding door.
Glory lingered at the fireplace a moment, her fingers tapping nervously across the mantle. “Bring my box and my shroud,” she said. “They’re in the basement.”
Cofax went to fetch them.
“Glory… don’t!” Tony managed to rasp. Darkness had begun to swirl around him and his grip on consciousness felt tenuous at best.
“Your hat and coat, ma’am,” said Hoake, fetching Glory’s gown from the floor.
She took it from him and said, “Turn your back.”
Hoake chuckled, but did as she asked.
As she dressed, Tony saw Glory tie something into one of her shoulder straps, but he couldn’t tell what it was.
A moment later, Cofax returned lugging the rosewood box. “Somebody better help me with this,” he said, “or I’m gonna have one helluva hernia.”
“If you weren’t dead, you mean,” said Hoake, smiling. “C’mon, Glory, let’s get out of here.”
“Yeah,” agreed Cofax, “before I decide to drop this box on Romeo here.”
Glory looked at Tony one last time, then she transformed herself into a large white owl and flitted off into the night sky.
Hoake and Cofax flew after her, carrying the box between them.
Darkness swirled in around Tony and he knew nothing more.