Though The Witches Are All Hung

June 26th, 1977

The red brick obscenity rose up seven stories against the feverish New York City skyline. Dilapidation was the apartment’s principle character, though beneath the grime and squalor a strange dignity remained; hinting at the structure’s queer tenacity, its utter unwillingness to yield wholly to the ravages of time. Built in the style indigenous to the area circa 1890-something, it had stood for nigh on one hundred years and would likely continue to stand for at least one hundred more. That is, unless the city planners took a notion to level it to make room for yet another housing project.

Detective Donovan Enright caught his reflection in a cataracted ground floor window as he made his way to the door. He was a slight though nonetheless sturdy man, possessed of wholesome Gaelic features he supplemented with a fashionable mustache. Despite his apparent hardiness, the immense heat of the day had nearly wilted Enright; sweat described twin semi-circles under both of his arms, the furrows of his brow became a complex of fleshy canals funneling perspiration down his face.

He was canvassing–pure footwork. Pure shitwork in the eighty two degree summer sun. A prostitute known to work the neighborhood had been discovered dead and defiled two days prior. According to the file her name was Melinda Harris, age nineteen. Track marks up and down her arms, between her toes, and elsewhere confirmed her as a habitual drug user. The presence of A+, A-, B+, B-, AB+, AB-, O+, and O- semen in her vaginal canal came as a surprise to precisely no one, least of all the members of the vice squad who had several times removed her from the street corner and taken their tribute from her. But the coroner’s report did include certain peculiarities: phrases like “ritual mutilation” and “evidence of cannibalistic tendencies in the perpetrator or perpetrators” featured prominently throughout.

Muster room chatter filled in the details. “A couple of young guys found her,” Malone, the responding officer, reported to a rapt audience of beat cops and detectives at the 76th precinct. “Hell, they’ll never sleep again. Whoever did it sliced the girl all to shit. Took her organs. They even cut off one of her tits. Plus she had all these weird ass marks carved into her, like little swastikas or something.”

Enright and two other homicide dicks–detectives Marshall Costigan and William Callendar–had been temporarily reassigned from the Omega task force. Their new imperative: make this go away. Between the .44 Caliber Killer, rent hikes, and declining wages, the last thing Mayor Beame needed was some murderous sex fiend prowling the blighted Brooklyn waterfront for wayward whores. Enright and company had to find someone to pin the killing on. Fast.

Detective Calendar was working the Neo-Nazi angle the swastikas implied; Costigan was following up with the victim’s known associates–some guido pimp alias’d “Tony Dragon” and a handful of impossible-to-track-down johns; leaving Enright to walk Red Hook alone, flashing his badge alongside a monochromatic headshot of Melinda Harris. “Have you seen this woman?”

If anyone had, they’d forgotten in the interim. Five dollar bills freely given did nothing to jog anyone’s memory. Enright’s detour to this mouldering apartment was as much about escaping the fiery sun as it was checking up on leads. He wiped his brow and entered the building.

The decadence implied by the apartment’s exterior was all but confirmed by its lobby; a moldy antechamber lit only by a few jaundiced bulbs. At least it was cool. A claustrophobic stairway descending into darkness at the rear of the lobby suggested the structure extended as far below ground as it did above. Enright shuddered despite the sweat that still clung to him.

Four emaciated young men lounged on moth-eaten furniture smoking cigarettes. Idiocy was writ large on each of their faces. Enright handed them the picture of Melinda. “Any of you seen her around?” Three sullen no’s and one leering “I’d like to.”

Disgusted, Enright called it a day. He decided he would return to the station, file the necessary paperwork, and finish out his watch in the relative comfort of his desk chair. Enright arrived at his patrol car just in time to hear the call go out over the radio. “12-21. 12-21. 2-11. I repeat, 2-11. Silent alarm at Howie’s Take-Out.” The dispatcher gave the address. It was only two blocks away. Enright yanked the handheld off its cradle. “10-4. Rolling.”

* * *

Pandemonium.

Neighborhood kids had opened up a fire hydrant across the street from Howie’s to combat the heat; torrents of water caught the light and went polychromatic above their heads. The knot of prepubescent pagans scattered when Enright brodied his unmarked Plymouth in front of the carryout and removed the shotgun from the vehicle’s trunk. Blue steel glinted in the sun.

Howie’s Take-Out was nearly indistinguishable from the thousands of other corner groceries that constituted a pocket economy of their own in the city. A blue awning jutted out from the store’s facade, shading the plate glass window beneath. Enright could hear someone inside barking orders from the street. “Open the fuckin’ register or I swear to God I’ll blow you away, grandpa!”

Enright ran to the door, paused briefly to collect himself, and kicked it open; a fat black cat took the opportunity to escape, hissing and yowling like a creature possessed as it disappeared into an alley. Enright breached, his gun raised.

The perp turned away from the counter and leveled his pistol at Enright as he entered the store. For an instant, he was the scrawny yellow teenager Private Enright had left for dead in the tunnels beneath Củ Chi. A blast of buckshot from the Ithaca pump shattered the illusion. The hood caught the spray in his right shoulder and pinwheeled back into a wire rack of cheap paperbacks. Dozens of potboilers spilled out across the linoleum around his prone body. 

Enright stood over the assailant, racked another shell into the chamber, and erased the boy’s countenance; chunks of brain and shredded paper went airborne. A woman screamed behind a shelf of potato chips. The geriatric clerk cheered through a mouthful of plastic teeth. Something evil rolled over in Enright’s gut. Five black and whites pulled up to the curb with sirens wailing as he stumbled outside to purge his stomach into the trash choked gutter.

July 8th, 1977

While the Shooting Review Board vivisected Enright and his version of what occurred and how at Howie’s Take-Out, Costigan and Calendar made significant progress on the case. When a survey of Melinda Harris’ KAs turned up nothing, the detectives consolidated their efforts and began rousting latter-day fascists as a team.

Day one was spent sifting files, collating known hate mongers and extant Hitler devotees with R&I geeks. The second day of their collaboration the men eschewed surnames–with Costigan giving way to “Marsh” and Calendar to “Bill” in the patrol car–and they began prowling the streets. On the third day, the duo turned up Robert “Bobby” Bettger drinking in a seedy German dive bar a block away from where young Ms. Harris was last seen alive.

Bobby’s sheet had him down as a devoted black basher with a yen for teenage pussy. Four counts of aggravated assault; half as many stat rape charges. Anything more and Bobby would never again see the light of day. Calendar and Costigan had him by the balls in interrogation room #3.

“My friend over at Rikers Island is gonna break the electric chair outta storage just for you,” Calendar said. “You’re gonna fry, asswipe.”

“For what? Doing your job?” Bobby snapped, too cocky.

“You got a funny idea of police work,” Costigan intoned.

“Somebody’s gotta keep the spooks in line.”

Costigan laid out three black and white photos on the table before Bobby: Melinda bloody and battered, thrown out like trash; Melinda missing her left breast; close-ups of one of the five swastikas that had been carved into her tender white flesh–prior to her death, if the autopsy report was to be believed.

“Seems you’ve graduated to killing white women instead of raping them,” Calendar said.

Bobby nearly screamed. “I don’t know a fuckin’ thing about that, man. Holy shit. You think I did this?”

“Who else?” Costigan said. “We found cum that matches your blood type on the body. ‘In,’ I should say.”

“You really ought to work on your penmanship,” Calendar said. “These barely look like swastikas. More like stars. What the hell are they teaching you guys in the Hitler Youth these days?”

“Oh fuck,” Bobby whimpered. “Man, you gotta trust me. I didn’t do this. This is fuckin’ insane.”

Costigan tapped his wrist, cop semaphore for Let’s step out. The pair quit the interrogation room for the hall. Calendar asked, “What are you doing? We got him.”

“I don’t like him for it,” Costigan said.

“I don’t much give a fuck what you like, he’s our man.”

“Jesus Christ, Bill. Think about it. You saw how he reacted to those pictures. Why would he go from beating on jigs to slicing up some white whore?”

“Maybe she looked at him wrong. Maybe she wasn’t doing her part to secure a future for the white race. I don’t know, and if I did I’d be as crazy as he is. You saw what he did to that girl. He’s a loon, it’s not gonna make sense.”

“Listen–”

“No, you fuckin’ listen, Costigan. I don’t give two shits whether he did it or not. He’s scum, and somebody’s gotta take the fall for that bitch before Beame throws us all to the fuckin’ wolves. He. Is. Our. Fuckin’. Man. I’m going back in there and gettin’ us a fuckin’ confession, with or without you.”

Calendar brushed past him into the interrogation room, slamming the door behind him. Costigan watched Calendar circle Bobby like a starved animal through the two way glass. He fondled the rosary in his pocket. He averted his eyes when Calendar pulled the leather sap out of his waistband and cracked Bobby across the kidneys.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, Calendar dropped a handwritten confession, signed Robert J. Bettger, on Costigan’s desk. “Type that up for me, would you,” Calendar said. Costigan pretended not to see the crimson blood stains on his crisp white cuffs. “Sure thing, Calendar.”

July 10th, 1977

Two weeks after the carryout shooting–and one week after his appearance before the Shooting Review Board–Enright received a letter from the NYPD. He opened it at the mailbox, skipped straight to the bottom, and read “…it is the official opinion of this board that the officer involved shooting that occured on 6/26/1977 at HOWIE’S TAKE-OUT was in protocol. DETECTIVE DONOVAN A. ENRIGHT is to return to active duty effective 7/11/1977.”

He nearly shit. Enright had spent the last dozen nights staring at the ceiling above his bed, wondering if the board believed his version of the events. He sanitized the shooting. He omitted the flashback. According to Enright, it was a clean kill: he entered, fired two shots, and dropped the fucker. Textbook, and all in a day’s work for a member of New York’s finest.

But Enright couldn’t be sure they had bought it.

He hadn’t slept in the weeks since the shooting, and when he did the steady thump of his ceiling fan became the rotors of a huey in his dreams. He lost track of how many times he had awoken in a cold sweat to pace his apartment, reliving that incident and others.

Occasionally he sat in the humid darkness and listened to his neighbors on either side; above and below him. Happy couples laughing about nothing in particular and dreamers who had come to the city to make it big pecking away at their typewriters late into the night. He could only listen so long before spinning a record to drown them all out. “…burn away the goodness, you and I remain…

But those days had passed. Evidently the board believed his story–he was holding the proof in his hands. Enright suspected that the wizened clerk’s testimony had something to do with it. The man had winked at him when they crossed paths at the courthouse. He resolved to buy the old bastard a bottle of liquor–something expensive and imported that would adequately express his appreciation.

Tomorrow he would report for duty and do the only thing that made sense to him since the war. Until then, Enright decided to celebrate: drinks at Logan’s.

Even though the bar was several blocks away, Enright spurned the subway in favor of a yellow taxi cab. His fare bought him a grand survey of urban decadence: lunatic bums picking through the detritus of their so-called betters, porno theater marquees offering a glimpse at every kind of congress–holy and otherwise.

Arriving at Logan’s, Enright put the images of the city away; replacing them instead with the sights and sounds of an Irish cop bar: stale cigarette smoke to the ceiling, newspaper clippings tacked to the walls, picturesque old timers chewing the fat. And into this scene walked a woman.

She was incongruous in her above the knee skirt and sweater combo. A curlicue’d bob haircut framed her freckled face. Fourteen heads turned in unison.

Enright assumed she was either cop crazy or clueless. When she sat down beside him he knew it was the former. She ordered a drink and introduced herself to Enright as Paisley. “Is that your first name or your last one?” he asked.

“Does it matter?” Paisley answered. Touché. “Call me Donnie,” he said. Paisley was pure midwest diaspora, drawn to the Big Apple by bright lights and promises of adventure. So far she’d been disappointed. Enright laughed and said she’d have known better if she were born here like he was.

“Speaking of, when’s your birthday?”

“Why? Planning on getting me a gift?” Enright said.

“I’ve been getting into astrology lately and I’ve got a hunch about you.”

He laughed, “May 13th, 1944.”

Paisley thought for a moment, concentrating. “I think your Sun and Ascendant signs are both in Taurus, but your Moon is in Gemini.”

Enright grunted in reply.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what all that means?”

“Sure. What’s all that mean?”

“It means you’re what you look like you are, even if you aren’t so sure yourself.”

“And what do I look like I am?

Paisley put a hand on his arm and said, “A good man.”

“You must be drunk.”

She smiled, “Only a little.”

* * *

And then they were at Enright’s apartment, making his bed groan and creak; haunted house sounds as petty revenge on his neighbors for their exclusive happiness. When both of them had finished, they basked in each other’s post-coital glow, sweating, smoking cigarettes, and pillow talking. Paisley read the tattoo on his bicep, “‘Non Gratus Anus Rodentum.’ Latin?”

“Yeah.”

“What for?”

“‘Not Worth a Rat’s Ass,’” he winced. “I got it in the Army.” He hoped this would be enough to satisfy her curiosity. It was not. “Oh really? What’d you do there?”

“1st Engineer Battalion. I was a tunnel rat. Can we talk about something else, please?”

Paisley took a drag on her cigarette, glancing about the room as she did. Empty bottles of gin lined the wainscotting; stacks of books by Lombroso, Merton, and others of their ilk leaned precariously; manila folders overflowing with paper and glossy photos occluded the top of his dresser. She walked naked from the bed and opened a folder at random. “What’s in these?”

“Don’t look at that, it’s–”

Paisley gasped, “Oh my God.” She had found Melinda Harris, her dead eyes reflecting an empty sky in black and white.

“I know,” Enright said, appearing behind her. “It’s bad.”

“I knew her,” she cried.

“You what?”

“I knew her. She used to hang around at the occult bookstore and–”

“What was the name of the store?” Enright asked, desperately searching for a pen and paper.

“The Triple Goddess,” she said. Paisley’s tears began to flow freely from her emerald eyes, tracing a crooked path down her freckled cheeks. “Sometimes I think I made a mistake coming here, to New York,” she sobbed. “I thought it’d help me with my art, inspire me or something. But all it’s done is paralyze me. I haven’t painted in months. It’s ugly. It’s all so ugly!”

Enright led her back to the bed. He stroked her hair and traced designs on her skin; spirals upon spirals, hearts spiked by arrows. They fell asleep in each other’s arms.

July 11th, 1977

“Welcome back, Enright,” Costigan said. Cops milled around the squadroom, grab-assing and preparing for another day patrolling the streets. Calendar stood in the center of the throng holding court, expounding on the twin evils of crack pushers and crack addicts. Costigan stood smiling over Enright’s desk. “Glad to see you beat the board.”

“Glad to be back,” Enright said. “I think I’ve got a lead on the Melinda Harris case.”

“Didn’t Calendar tell you? We solved it.”

“You don’t sound too happy about that.”

“I’m not. It was a hatchet job. I’ve been dragging my feet on writing up the ‘confession’ he beat out of our suspect. What do you got?”

Enright told him about the occult bookstore, how Melinda had been a regular there before her disappearance and subsequent death. He neglected to mention that he learned this from the woman with whom he had shared his bed the night before, and with whom he intended to meet again that night. “Shit, I don’t have anything better,” Costigan said, bitterly watching Calendar soak up the admiration of his brother officers. “Let’s check it out.”

* * *

The only indication that the establishment sold anything more outré than other, more traditional stores of its kind was the sign above the door. The Triple Goddess, it read in Gothic lettering. Beneath this, three nude women cavorted around a monstrous he-goat; Goya’s Witches’ Sabbath recreated in blinking neon. Costigan pointed to the sign. “They used to burn people at the stake for less.”

“We live in a more enlightened age,” Enright said, opening the door.

The cramped interior of The Triple Goddess was decorated with paraphernalia from a discordant melange of mystic traditions; Chakra chart posters hung proudly beside voodoo death masks, which in turn stared out at the detectives from next to oil paintings depicting nameless rites conducted by unknown sects. Electric fans hummed insectile throughout, standing as modern totems against the heatwave. Rows of oaken bookshelves bisected the scene. Costigan read a few of the spines nearest him: Colin Wilson’s The Occult: A History, an expurgated English translation of De Vermis Mysteriis, Durtal’s Biography of Gilles de Rais. The titles made his skin crawl.

Enright crossed the floor to the counter “Can I help you with something?” the cashier, a young woman dressed in garish hippy garb asked.

“Yes, you can, Miss…?” 

“Titania.”

Costigan snickered. “I had you pegged as a ‘Betty.’” Titania glowered.

“Do you recognize this woman?” Enright said, flashing a photograph of Melinda in life.

“Why, is she in some kind of trouble?”

“She’s dead.”

“Oh my Goddess,” she said, the “-dess” clearly an afterthought. “Yes, that’s Melinda. She used to come in all the time.”

Once Titania collected herself, Enright asked,Why’d you think she was in trouble?”

“I figured if two cops come around asking about you, you’re probably in deep,” she said. “And Melinda was a seeker. Wanted to know the truth of it all, y’know?”

“No, I don’t think I do,” Costigan said, eying the Fear City pamphlets that were prominently displayed on the counter.

“It’s like in that movie. Dorothy pulls the curtain back and finds the man behind it, except real life isn’t like that. You pull the curtain back and all you find is another curtain. It drives some people crazy.”

“Or into places like this.”

“Or into churches,” Titania quipped.

They stared each other down. Enright broke the silence, “When was the last time you saw Melinda?”

“Two, maybe three weeks ago.” Titania went on to tell the detectives that Melinda mentioned something about living in Red Hook, some kind of New Age commune. Titania didn’t credit that, though. Brooklyn was too rough. Another detail: Melinda had been trying to learn French.

  “Any idea why?” Enright asked.

“Not really. She mentioned something about that commune, but like I said, there’s no way there’s an enclave or coven out that way.”

Their investigation thus concluded, Enright thanked Titania for her time. He and Costigan exited the store and began piecing together what little information they had.

“I want to follow up on what she said about Brooklyn,” Costigan said. “You take the night off, man. You earned it, coming up with this lead.”

“Good luck. I was down that way before I got the call about Howie’s. There’s no way.”

“You never know.”

* * *

Paisley and Enright reunited in an anonymous diner. The rendezvous had been planned in the early hours of the morning. Paisley assured him the victuals were up to par and furnished him with a meeting time and directions before her departure from Enright’s apartment. The appointed hour saw them both arrive, each wearing what they thought would impress the other–Enright in his uniform and Paisley in a low cut skirt. They took a booth by the door.

Looking in her eyes, Enright managed to forget himself–the war, his beat, the pain that he had become dissolved. And, despite having only known one another for a short while, their shared disillusionment with the city served as adequate kindling for the fires of their passion. In between mouthfuls of food, Enright spoke with a conviction known only to madmen and lovers: they would quit New York for a more suitable pastoral scene–Rhode Island, or maybe somewhere further south. Somewhere Enright could find employment, if not as an agent of the law then as a carpenter. Or a foreman. A profession that would give his hands something to do, at least. It wouldn’t matter so long as they were together.

Paisley agreed. Perhaps the forests and fields of rural New England would capture her artistic fancy, inspiring a new series of paintings. Maybe one centered on those little forgotten cabins that people the woods there. Or maybe a collection of triptychs–each panel depicting another facet of the sublime splendor endemic to the region. It wouldn’t matter so long as they were together.

They spent the evening together once again, this time at Paisley’s apartment; surrounded by a series of blank canvases and countless tubes of unopened acrylic paint. Enright had no use for dreams that night.

* * *

Costigan found Red Hook much as Enright had three weeks before: a Dickensian maze of brick houses and dirty highways climbing up and away from the grimy wharves to that higher ground where the streets finally lead off toward the relative cleanliness of the Borough Hall. The only evidence that this was ever a desirable place to live lay solely in the trim shapes of the buildings, the occasional graceful churches, and the random decorative columns and bannisters which ornamented a selection of these aforesaid edifices–all of which had been given over to the weather and worms in the years following their construction along the waterfront decades prior. His tour of the neighborhood ended on the stoop of a particularly decrepit looking tenement, where a lupine young man sat fiddling with a knife.

He had no way of knowing the building he stood before was the same one Enright had sought refuge in weeks before, nor that this youth was one of the four his colleague had encountered that same day. Costigan hailed him. “Maybe you could help me, son.”

“Could be,” he replied, running his index finger down the blade.

“You ever see a girl come through: brunette, little over five foot? Might’ve mentioned something about witchcraft or belonging to a coven or a commune around here?”

That pulled the man-child’s eyes away from his knife. “Wouldn’t know about any girl like that, officer,” he said. “But ole Miss Mason might. She knows all kinds of things.”

“And where’s she?” Costigan asked.

“I’ll show you.”

With that, the strange youth rose from the steps and entered the apartment building. He gestured for Costigan to follow. As he conducted Costigan through the dingy lobby, up a half dozen flights of stairs that groaned beneath their every step, and down several winding hallways lined with trash; he began to ramble. “Miss Mason’s been here a long time. Mmm. Longer than me. Longer than anybody I know.”

“That so?” Costigan couldn’t help but notice his guide’s strange gait; a kind of awkward lope, as though his legs didn’t meet his hip at quite the right angle. The way he moved recalled a circus dog walking on its hindlimbs.

“Mmm. A long time. Longer than the injuns. The neph’lim, even. Mmm. Long time.”

Finally, they arrived at a door. The boy knocked. After a moment, a voice from within bade them to enter. Costigan followed as his guide opened the door and entered the domicile.

It was filthy. Stacks and stacks of age yellowed books covered the floor. What little space remained uncovered by these was soaked through with what seemed to be piss; spotted by rat droppings and cigarette butts. A strange, metallic tang filled the air. And in the center of it all sat Miss Mason herself. She was older and thinner than Costigan thought it possible for anything alive to be. Her liver spotted skin seemed as though it had been stretched over her skull and tacked back somewhere in the tangled grey rat’s nest of her hair. “Hello, Miss Mason.”

Miss Mason met his gaze. There was something in it that recalled the way his mother had looked at him in her final days. Senility, or perhaps a deeper understanding of the world and its mysteries than Costigan was capable. “Yes?”

“I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

“They all do,” Miss Mason coughed.

“Did you know a Melinda Harris?”

“I know everyone.”

Costigan sighed. Her mind was gone. He excused himself, claiming that he had to relieve himself. Miss Mason furnished him with directions, and he was off. None of the rooms he passed were any cleaner than the entry; piles of shoes were stacked haphazardly here and there, water damage from some long ago storm made a Rorschach test of the drywall. And everywhere that coppery stench. Could it be what he feared it was?

He detoured to the kitchen, where he discovered a leather bound grimoire on the counter, along with scraps of meat and gnawed on bones. Gold lettering on its black cover proclaimed it as Cultes des Ghoules. Something clicked into place: hadn’t Titania mentioned something about Melinda trying to learn French? Curious, he flipped through the pages.

The pictures he found within were appalling–terrible creatures of every shape and size; cruel mockeries of the human form which cannot be put down in any sane idiom. The text itself was red, and varied between an archaic French dialect and some other unrecognizable language. There, between the illustrations that made his teeth ache to look at and the words he could make neither heads nor tails of, Costigan saw the same symbol that had been carved into Melinda’s flesh. What he and his brother officers had initially taken for swastikas were evidently something much older, much more arcane. A floorboard creaked behind him.

Costigan turned, and as he did the young man who had served as his guide thrust a jeweled athame into his stomach. He reached for his revolver–too late. His attacker pushed the blade deeper into his intestines. The pain was indescribable; Costigan’s eyes glazed in shock at the brute immensity of the sensation. He died writhing in agony on the kitchen floor, mouthing the Our Father and praying it was true. 

July 12th, 1977

Enright arrived at the station at half past six, wearing the same clothes he had on the day before. He sat at his desk and reviewed the file. Nothing made sense. Swastikas. French. New Agers. Non sequiturs all. He sighed. “Long night, Enright?” A chuckle. “I’m a poet and I didn’t mean to be.”

Enright looked up to see Calendar standing over him nursing a coffee. Calendar glowed. Ever since he’d gotten the confession from Bettger, he’d been on Cloud Nine. He’ll be chief of police by year’s end, just ask him. “No longer than usual.”

“C’mon, who’s the lucky lady?”

Enright stared him down. “Where’s Costigan?”

“Hell if I know. He wasn’t in for muster.”

Enright’s stomach dropped. He rose from his desk without a word and ran to his patrol car.

“Crazy fuck,” Calendar muttered.

* * *

Enright saw Costigan’s car parked in front of the apartment and knew. With Bettger set to take the fall for the Harris girl, there would be no way to convince the judge to get a search warrant.

He would have to do it himself.

July 13th, 1977

Enright called Paisley. He told her if he survived the night, he would retire from the force and they would relocate together. Somewhere. Anywhere. She began to protest, but before she could ask just what he intended to do, he slammed the receiver down. Enright poured himself a drink and began to take inventory.

He kept the Ithaca pump under his bed, along with a dozen or so boxes of shells. 

The AK-47–a war trophy–was stashed at the back of his closet.

And of course, he had his police issue Model 11. It never left his side.

He loaded his arsenal into the back of his squad car; a demonic jumble of Damascus steel, wood furniture, and lead.

Detective Donovan A. Enright was ready.

* * *

That evening, at approximately 9:15 PM, Enright parked his patrol car beside Costigan’s. The apartment loomed above him; a cyclopean monument to the urban built by unknown hands. Rage for Melinda, Costigan, and God knows how many others filled Enright’s heart as he strapped the rifle, then the shotgun to his back. He checked to make sure his revolver was loaded. It was. He slammed the cylinder back into place with the palm of his hand.

Enright stood at the entrance, limned by the light that radiated from within the building. He pushed the door open, his gun drawn. 

Four emaciated young men lounged on moth-eaten furniture smoking cigarettes. Idiocy was writ large on each of their faces. Enright grabbed the one nearest him by his shirt and thrust the pistol in his face. “Where is he?”

“Who?” the man asked. His companions rose. Enright broke the man’s nose with the butt of his gun. The other men returned to their seats. “The cop, damn it!”

“Ionno wha’ you’re talkin’ abou’,” he spat through the blood.

Enright forced the barrel of his gun into the man’s mouth, turned to the trio, and said, “If none of you know, I’ll blow his fucking head off.”

They glanced at each other. Something passed between them. “He’s upstairs,” one said. “With Miss Mason,” another added.

“Take me to him.”

Enright held the gun on the four men as they led him up a winding staircase. As Enright ascended the stairs, he was struck by a sudden and intense feeling of kenopsia–as though the myriad rooms of the apartments around him had been suddenly abandoned, their anonymous inhabitants fleeing for parts unknown at his approach. Nevertheless, he pushed onward.

Finally, they arrived at their destination. Enright kicked the door down, and was immediately overwhelmed by the sickly sweet smell of death. His unwilling guides deserted him, fleeing down the stairs, crying out queer lamentations as they fled. “Costigan?”

No answer. He jammed his pistol back into its holster and switched to the shotgun. Enright steeled himself and entered the flat.

It was 9:27 PM. Miles away in Guilderland, the ConEd station overloaded. Subways died in their tunnels. Prowling bands of bleary-eyed and pockmarked youth–driven out from their squalid tenements by the heat–took to the streets in a bacchanal of flame and destruction. And Miss Mason’s apartment was plunged into darkness.

The squalor Costigan had marked on his ill fated adventure was all but invisible to Enright. He fumbled in his pocket for a flashlight. He began to navigate the apartment by its feeble beam. Here, scrawled on the walls in red, he saw strange graffiti that read “ OTHEOS • ISCHYROS • ATHANATOS • IEHOVA • VA • ADONAI”; there, on the floor, Costigan’s mangled form. It looked as if he had been set upon by some primitive butcher, his limbs shorn of their flesh at random.

Enright struck a match.

* * *

Newspaper men and arson detectives investigating the wreck of the building in the weeks that followed the night of the blackout tallied the wholesale destruction there as part and parcel of the citywide insanity. A third page item in papers plastered with headlines like BLACKEST NIGHT IN U.S. HISTORY, BLACKOUT! LIGHTNING HITS CON ED SYSTEM!, and BLACKOUT HITS N.Y.: OVER 500 LOOTERS SEIZED! None made note of the curiously gnarled corpses removed from the blackened rubble, nor of the disappearance of one Miss Randolph and her four adult children.

Enright requested–and was granted–a transfer to Pascoag where he and Paisley could finally find some reprieve from the endless and labyrinthine horror of that accursed city. And where, perhaps, the incidents of that evening could recede from the present reality to that picturesque country of memory.

— Dawson Wohler is a writer and aspiring future ex-con. He has a Twitter account and a blog.