TWENTY-NINE – THE WRECK OF THE TITANIA
Tony awoke to discover a half-dozen pale white moths fluttering around his face.
His head hurt like Hell, and his guts felt like someone had put them through a blender. The yellow rays of the late afternoon sun burned his eyes.
It took him a moment to remember what had happened. Then he sat up and looked frantically around the wreck that had once been his studio.
Shards from the windows lay all about the room. His paintings and drawings had been scattered everywhere during the fight. Several sculptures were tipped over, though they remained unbroken. Tony wondered why he hadn’t noticed the chaos the night before. In the fireplace, the fire had long ago burned itself out—not even a glowing ember remained.
The house lay deserted, still and silent except for Tony’s labored breathing.
They had taken her… Angel and the other two. They had taken Glory. He’d never see her again.
He felt a huge, empty spot grow in the pit of his stomach. The thought of being without her was unbearable.
Then he remembered the ship. They’d probably gone to the ship. They might not have been able to move their coffins anywhere else the night before. They wouldn’t have had the time. It was too close to dawn when they took her.
Tony realized that, if he hurried, he might still be able to catch them sleeping. He could destroy them while they lay in their boxes and take Glory back.
I need weapons, he thought. The first one that sprang to mind was the dagger. Where had it fallen the night before?
He fished it out of the ashes. The silver cruciform knife appeared unharmed, its point sharp.
What else had Glory said? “… piercing your heart—not merely with a stake of ash or a blessed dagger, but with anything—will kill you.”
Tony remembered that in folklore, a pointed stake would suffice. He fetched a knife and mallet from his workshop and took three thin, stout logs from the wood storage area near the fireplace. He’d intended to use them for kindling, but now they had a far more important purpose. He used his knife to quickly sharpen the ends.
He dressed hurriedly in jeans, a sweater, and his deck shoes. Then he stuck the dagger in his pocket and loaded the mallet and stakes into his boat.
He pushed the boat out into the water and hopped in, not bothering to scull out before he dropped the motor and started it up.
Tony aimed the prow of the skiff for the sandbar and let the throttle out full. He could see thunderheads in the distance over the lake, rolling southward, but he hoped to be done with his errand long before they reached him.
If I get there in time, he thought, I can let the sunlight do my work for me.
He looked westward, the sun had dipped low, but he figured he had plenty of time.
That is, he had plenty of time until his gas ran out.
Tony cursed himself for forgetting to check the tank. He’d made a ritual of checking every time he used the boat. Why now, when he needed it most, did the habit desert him?
Yelling vainly at the rising wind, Tony put the oarlocks in place and began rowing toward the wreck of the Titania.
The last rays of the sun were being consumed by the approaching storm as Tony lashed his boat to the rail. He lit his lantern, tucked the stakes under his arm and the mallet in his belt. He threw his rope over his shoulder, and scrambled aboard.
The deck of the Titania pitched as waves rolled in from the north, making his going difficult. All thought of letting the sun destroy the men in the boxes had long ago vanished from Tony’s mind. He knew he would have to destroy his foes the old-fashioned way.
A sudden lurch from the ship threw him against the rail. He leaned there, trying not to drop his weapons, as he tied his rope to it. Then he inched to the hatch, threw it open, and tossed the rope inside. He set the lantern on the deck above and climbed down, the stakes and mallet stuck in his belt.
The Titania sighed softly as Tony’s feet hit the floor. The three boxes rested in the same place they had the previous day, but Glory’s rosewood box was no longer in its special nook. Now it was in the hold next to the others, surrounded by them. It looked small and fragile next to the heavy coffins.
Tony took mallet and stake in hand and raised the lid of the box nearest him. Inside, Billy Hoake slept the sleep of the undead, his lips coated with the blood of some unknown victim.
Tony positioned the stake over Hoake’s heart and raised the mallet. But, as he did, the light failed.
Hoake’s eyes flicked open, and he grabbed the shaft of the stake before Tony could bring the hammer down.
“Not this time, white boy,” Hoake said, showing his fangs. “You ain’t gonna give this black man the shaft.” He tore the stake from Tony’s hand and tossed it into the water at the aft end of the room.
Tony panicked. He realized he stood little chance against the three dead men in these close quarters. As Hoake roused himself from his coffin, Tony lunged for the rope and scrambled back up it. He heard the lids of the other coffins fall to the floor as he went.
“Well,” Cofax’s gruff voice said from below, “looks like we got ourselves an unexpected visitor.”
“A visitor that doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone,” agreed Angel Whyte.
Tony hated to leave Glory alone with them for another night, but he didn’t see he had much choice. He flung the hatch shut and tried to find the locking pin. The lid caught on his rope and didn’t close properly.
Thinking quickly, he drew out the silver dagger and cut the rope, letting the cord drop inside. Then he threw the latch.
But, before he could put the dagger on top to seal them in, the hatch burst outward.
Billy Hoake leapt out, landing lightly on the rocking deck of the Titania. Nearby, thunder crashed and rolled as the storm bore down.
“You thought you could lock us in, paleface?” the poet asked sardonically. “Now why would you want to do that? You should have woken sooner, before lady night cast her mantle over Apollo’s gleaming chariot.” He lunged at Tony.
Thinking quickly, Tony seized the lantern from where he’d set it before descending below. He spun and smashed it against Hoake’s head.
The kerosene spread over the dead man’s face and body and the flame within the lantern set it alight.
Hoake screamed in rage and pain, flailing blindly about the deck. Tony stepped away, just out of Hoake’s grasp, as Cofax squeezed his bulk through the hatch.
“Move it, fatass!” Tony heard Angel call from below. “I want a piece of that no-talent Frost mother-fucker, too!”
Tony ran toward the struggling reporter, but a sudden lurch of the ship threw off his aim. He sunk the silver dagger into Cofax’ shoulder rather than his heart.
Cofax howled, but lost his grip on the side of the hatch. As the unliving creature grasped wildly at the dagger, Tony pulled a stake from his belt and sank it deep into Cofax’s dead heart. Cofax slumped backwards, stuck tight in the hatchway.
Nearby, Hoake was still screaming, still burning. “I’ll kill you for this, you fuck!” he yelled, grabbing for Tony.
Tony ducked out of the way, almost losing his footing on the deck. The storm had rolled over their position while he’d been below, and the deck was now slick with rain.
He found the guideline on the ship’s broken staysail boom and pulled it. The boom swung round, catching the burning Hoake full in the chest and throwing him backward, toward the surf.
Hoake crashed through the window and landed in the cabin amidships, vanishing from sight.
But he must have landed near the stove’s propane tank as, seconds later, the cabin exploded in a blaze of fire. Flames spewed from the Titania’s innards, setting Tony’s boat alight and making the whole ship quake. The fire licked rapidly up the deck toward the forward hatch. The rain slowed it only slightly. No sign of Hoake remained.
Before Tony could act, a fist punched up through the deck and grabbed his right foot.
Angel Whyte’s strong arms broke through the boards and tried to pull his rival through the wood into the hold below.
Tony stabbed down into the darkness with his final stake and hit something. Angel howled, and Tony pulled his foot out of the hole. But he lost his grip on the stake, and it fell into the darkness below.
As Tony scrambled to his feet, the nearby deck erupted as Angel crashed through it. The tagger’s right hand bled from the damage Tony had inflicted.
“You fuck!” Angel cursed. “I paint with that hand.”
Tony smiled grimly. “Not anymore.”
Angel leapt at him. Tony tried to duck out of the way, but his feet slipped on the rain-slick surface. Angel landed on top of him, and the two of them rolled back toward the burning midsection of the ship.
Rain pounded into Tony’s face, nearly blinding him. Angel groped for Tony’s throat, his long nails ripping through Tony’s sweater as if it were paper.
Tony recovered his senses enough to make sure that, as they rolled, Angel hit the burning hull first. The graffiti artist screamed and let go.
Tony scrambled to the rail and half ran, half pulled himself toward the bow of the doomed ship. He knew if he could reach the dagger, he stood a chance.
The ship’s boom swayed perilously in the storm, and Tony had to duck as he moved past it. Cofax was still stuck in the hatchway, Tony’s stake sticking out of his chest, the dagger embedded in his shoulder.
Tony didn’t dare look back. All he could think of was Glory. He had to kill Angel and get her off the boat.
But as he reached for the knife, Angel landed in front of him. The tagger smiled, showing his sharp teeth. Angel’s hair still smoldered from where he’d caught fire. “Nice plan, painter man,” he said. “Too bad it didn’t work.”
Quick as a flash, Angel grabbed his opponent by the throat, lifting Tony off the ground. “You know,” Angel said, “I bet Billy Hoake would have appreciated that rhyme. Oh… I forgot, you killed him, didn’t you?”
The tagger smiled. “Now I guess I’ll have to kill you.” Angel squeezed, and Tony’s world began to swim around him.
Tony struggled and kicked, but to no avail. He could see the look of glee on his attacker’s face as the lightning cast cold, wicked light around them.
A giant wave hit the side of the ship, and Angel lost his footing. He stumbled forward, and Tony landed against Cofax. The butt end of the stake in the reporter’s chest pressed uncomfortably into Tony’s back.
But Angel didn’t let go. Tony’s world started to go black. He groped with his hands and found the hilt of the silver dagger.
Yanking it free from the corpse, Tony pressed the metal to the hand Angel had at his throat. Where the cross touched it, Angel’s fingers burst into flame.
Angel wailed as if he’d been struck by lightning. He released Tony and staggered backwards, clutching the smoking remains of his hand.
Tony lurched forward, holding the cross before him in his left hand, trying to ward the undead tagger off.
Angel laughed and extinguished the fire on his stump. “Won’t work, asshole,” he said. “It can burn me, but you don’t have the faith to drive me away. And I won’t let you touch me again.” He grabbed the ship’s metal railing and tore off a section with his good hand.
The storm was blowing wildly now, making the deck shiver and buck. Tony leaned against Cofax’s body to stay on his feet, and even Angel was having trouble standing. The wind whipped the ship’s splintered boom around behind the tagger.
It looked to Tony as if Angel intended to impale him on that torn section of railing. Desperately, Tony grabbed the hammer from his belt and threw it at the tagger.
The mallet struck Angel just under his ribs, causing him to stagger backwards on the slick deck.
As if it had a mind of its own, the ship’s boom suddenly swiveled toward the fighting men.
Angel toppled onto the broken end of the boom. The point pierced his back, but not enough to impale him. He squealed in pain.
Tony lunged forward, planting his shoulder in Angel’s gut, leaning with all his weight, forcing the undead tagger backward. Angel screamed as the splintered wood sundered his cold heart. Then his eyes rolled back, and he died for a second time.
Tony slumped to his knees, panting on the rain-slick deck, trembling from the exertion. In a flash of lightning, he saw Glory standing where the boom met the mast.
He realized instantly what had happened. “You… you saved me,” he said. “You swung the boom around, so I could kill him.”
Her face was wet, but he couldn’t tell if it was from the rain or tears. “How could I not?” she said. “I love you.”
Tony looked up at where Angel hung limply on the boom. He smiled wryly. “I never liked his work anyway.”
“Tony, you must go,” said Glory.
Tony shook his head. “I came to rescue you. I came so we could be together.”
“So I can destroy you as surely as I destroyed these sad men?” she asked. “No, Tony. You can’t. You mustn’t.” The fire behind her made her look strange and hellish. Something glittered at her shoulder, but Tony couldn’t tell what it was. “I won’t let you,” she said, her voice filled with despair.
He got to his feet and walked carefully toward her over the pitching deck.
“It’s my choice,” he said.