It was 11 at night, and the racket was loud enough to fill the block surrounding Niles Manor. Even with his TV set to max, Ash could hear the thundering guitars clear as a bell. The wild grinding pounded both in the walls and in his skull, sounding to him less like music and more like a five-year-old had found his teenage brother’s guitar set. It was a shrill, droning pain, a testament to the concept of noise pollution.
She’s listening to Whitechapel again, he thought. He’d confiscated those records dozens of times–he felt they had their place, but he didn’t think a ten-year-old should listen to them. How she got ahold of them was a mystery–the stores wouldn’t sell them to her, both due to the albums’ content and per his own request. Still, she managed to get new ones all the time–CD’s, music downloads both legal and illicit, even LP’s for her cobbled-together record player.
He suspected it was less the music itself that drew her in, but rather that blaring it at all hours of the day got on his nerves. Still, he tried to bear it. Even if he had knocked on their bedroom door, Twitch would not have heard him, and as it stood, someone far closer to her was going to end up as through with it as he was. Sure enough, the noise stopped, and as he heard Sabbath shouting at her sister, he breathed a sigh of relief, and went back to his reading.
Or he would have, had there not been a knock at the door. He tossed the book aside and went to answer, pausing briefly to peer through the peephole. It was Roderigo, standing inches from the door in an old seersucker shirt and a pair of ratty blue jeans–not his typical attire. He forced a smile and opened the door. “Hey Rod,” he said, “What’s up?”
“Just wanted to see how you were doing,” Roderigo said.
“Come in,” Ash said. As Roderigo stepped inside, wiping his feet on the doormat, Ash’s smile gave way to a frown. “You look pale,” he said, offering Roderigo a seat. “Are you sick?”
“I might be a little anemic,” Roderigo said. “Medication issues. It’ll blow over.” He sat down on the couch. “Seems quiet,” he said as he leaned back in his seat.
Ash smiled. “Well, you just missed the concert,” he said. “Twitch was reminding us why her favorite metalcore band doesn’t get much play on radio.”
“She doing alright?” Roderigo asked.
There was a hint of dishonesty in his voice–something that happened often enough that Ash barely noticed. To him, it was a quirk caused by the relative monotony of Roderigo’s voice–the lack of affect in his tone had a tendency to make him sound insincere, but Ash had never been bothered by it. “She’s fine,” he said. “Obnoxious, unruly, but fine.”
“And how’s Sabbath?” asked Roderigo. This time Ash caught a hint of genuine concern in Roderigo’s voice–which stood out far more to him given the hint of emotion that accompanied it.
“Depressed,” Ash said. He motioned Roderigo to a nearby chair, and calmly took his seat. “You know how she is. A little too emotional sometimes, but she’s a sweet kid. I don’t really know how she’s handling it as well as she is.”
“I guess she’s too young to remember Frank’s death,” Roderigo said. “Anne didn’t take that very well herself.”
“No, she didn’t, but the women in this family are hard to rattle. They pull through. Me,” Ash said, gazing toward the stairs, “Well, you know how I handled it when my dad died.”
“Better than you think you did.” Roderigo’s face seemed to tighten, as if he was trying to frown. “Better than I am,” he said.
“Did something happen?” Ash asked. Roderigo didn’t answer. The silence continued for several moments, with Roderigo’s face continuing to try to emote the entire time–or try to hold back emoting, Ash couldn’t be sure which. As the tension began to swell, Ash stood and asked, “How about I get you a drink. I usually go for a Pellegrino at this time of night, but I’m out. You like coffee, though, right?”
Roderigo seemed to relax. “I could go for a cup, he said, as Ash entered the kitchen. After a moment, he heard some water being poured into something metallic, followed by the distinct click of the stove. “Five sugars,” he called out. “If you wouldn’t mind, that is.”
After another moment, Roderigo heard the whistle of a teapot–or rather, the whistle of something small that sounded like a teapot–followed by the sounds of Ash placing something on a metal tray. Shortly after, Ash came out carrying a tray with an elegant, small metal kettle and two very small cups–along with a tea spoon and two small bowls. “Turkish coffee,” Ash said. “The beans are ground into a fine powder, and placed in the pot to boil. There’s no filter, but the grinds kind of feel like silk, and create a layer of foam. I flavor mine with cardamom–old family recipe–but you probably don’t even keep that at home. It’s almost as expensive as saffron, but a little goes a long way.”
Roderigo watched as Ash poured some of the coffee into a cup and handed it to him. Roderigo was amazed–although the family had known Ash for more than a decade now, they’d never discussed this before. And Roderigo had certainly never had Turkish coffee. He took a sip to test it, and found himself delighted; there was a brightness, a fruity tartness with notes of sweet orange in the finish–not the least bit bitter, and pleasantly acidic–all traits that defined a high quality light roast. He even picked up a few notes of cocoa. He could feel the powdered grinds on his tongue, and just as Ash had told him they were remarkably pleasant–quite different from the coffee dirt that sometimes crept into a cup brewed in a French press. The experience was different enough from his usual espresso that he decided to forgo the sugar for a change.
“Careful, Rod,” Ash said. The hybrid took a small pinch of ground cardamom from the other bowl and sprinkled it in his cup. “It’s hot enough to burn your tongue. You’re supposed to let it cool down for a few minutes before you drink it.”
Roderigo was perplexed for a moment. The temperature had been pleasantly hot to him, but as he looked down at the cup he could see quite a bit of steam. Just like with the White Flame, he thought. I guess I don’t burn easily, either.
Something in Roderigo’s expression seemed morose to Ash. The way he looked at his coffee caused his eyes to soften, to express a startling amount of sadness. He noticed a slight downward curl at the corners of Roderigo’s mouth, something that he had never seen before. But before he could ask what was wrong, Roderigo set his coffee down on the tray and reached inside the pocket of his jacket.Something in Roderigo’s expression seemed morose to Ash. The way he looked at his coffee caused his eyes to soften. He noticed a slight downward curl at the corners of Roderigo’s mouth, something that he had never seen before. But before he could ask what was wrong, Roderigo set his coffee down on the tray and reached inside the pocket of his jacket.
As Ash watched, Roderigo pulled a large pocketknife, and began idly thumping it against his thigh. For a moment, Ash thought it was strange–maybe a new tic that Roderigo picked up due to stress. But these thoughts were interrupted when Ash laid his eyes on the gray micarta handle, and at that point he no longer noticed the odd behavior of his friend but was instead consumed with fascination by what his friend had in his hand. “Holy–” he said, cutting himself off before he could finish. Ash leaned in to get a closer look. “Is that what I think it is?”
Whatever was bothering Roderigo seemed to slip away. Instead, Roderigo looked down at the knife and lifted it. His eyes connected with Ash’s as he held it out for his friend to inspect. “CQC Super Six,” he said. “Made to order, but they stopped making them a while ago.”
“That’s a hell of a blade,” Ash said.
Roderigo seemed to cringe. His expression was replaced with that same odd look of sadness that Ash had seen before. This time he was reminded of what Roderigo had said earlier–before Ash had offered him coffee. He lost interest in the knife, and instead became very concerned for his friend. “So about what you said earlier. What happened?”
“She’s dead,” Roderigo said. “Yvonne’s gone. She was killed by a man who broke into our house the other day.”
Ash was dumbstruck. It took him no time to process that Yvonne was dead, but what startled him most was that Roderigo–quiet, passionate Roderigo–had lost his wife of almost ten years, and now he was in his house holding a knife. The possibility that Roderigo had killed her didn’t even cross his mind–Roderigo would never have done that. Still, something about Roderigo’s behavior felt wrong. His expression was off–the odd look in his eyes, that hint of sadness, none of it should have been there. Ash didn’t want to think about it, but he worried Roderigo was contemplating something drastic. Ash had already lost Anne, and now he had just found out Yvonne was dead–he wasn’t ready to lose anyone else.
And then something even more unsettling crossed his mind.
The other day, Ash thought. She’s been dead for over a day now–and no one told me. Roderigo didn’t call. Carter didn’t call. Not even Steven. This isn’t right–they wouldn’t leave me out of the loop. Even if they couldn’t say anything, it’s the Carters–the media should have been over it. What the hell is going on?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Roderigo said. He unfolded his knife, and placed the tip of the blade against his palm. “You’re wondering why we didn’t tell you. You’re wondering why no one in the media reported it. But there’s a reason for that. You see… she didn’t exactly die in a way that anyone would find out. She didn’t leave a body. And the man who killed her… well, to call him a man isn’t exactly right.”
“He was a man once. We know that. But that was a long time ago. You could say the word demon fits him better, but that’s wrong too. And he wasn’t technically the one that killed her–his master did.”
With that, he pulled the knife back out, and his hand contracted into a fist. Blood flowed from the wound, but only for a second. Ash could barely bring himself to speak. “Rod, you’re scaring me. Put the knife down….”
“I’m fine,” Roderigo said. He closed the knife in one hand, and placed it back in his pocket. “Listen, there’s something you need to know. It’s about Rebecca–”
“She’s not your daughter. Maybe she was at some point–we don’t know. But that body–it’s an act, a shell. She doesn’t need it. Twitch is a God, Ash, and she’s a nasty one at that–”
“She eats souls. Living, dead, it doesn’t matter to her, and the fate they suffer, it’s worse than hell. She got her, Ash. She got her, and now Yvonne will know nothing but–”
“Shut the fuck up!” Ash screamed. His emotions were now on full display. He didn’t know why Roderigo was saying this. He didn’t care. For a moment he considered calling the police, but even with the adrenaline rushing through his veins he couldn’t stand. He gripped the chair tightly, his nails shredding the leather armrests. He began to shake, and then to cry–both in unbridled fury and complete sorrow.
Roderigo knew he had him. He reached into his pocket to grab a rag and–making sure that Ash could see–wiped away the blood from his hand. “I’m not really a man, either,” he said as Ash stared in horror at the unblemished skin. “At least, not anymore.”
Ash stood, his eyes fixated on that hand. Is this a trick? he thought. Some kind of sick joke? No it couldn’t be. When Roderigo had stabbed his hand, he’d held it at such an angle that it would have been impossible to fake.
“He felt his anger intensify. It was a trick–a sick joke of some kind. It had to be. What Roderigo had done wasn’t possible. What he had said wasn’t possible. Ash wouldn’t allow himself to think it. God himself would not allow it.
“Oh, keep going,” a small voice crooned. Both Roderigo and Ash looked up to see Twitch, standing at the top of the stairs, wearing a smile so cold it sent shivers down Ash’s spine.
“This all sounds very fascinating,” she said.