The Tempter Comes

15) Playing Detective



15   Playing Detective


Need begets desire.

Desire begets effort.

Effort begets knowledge.

Knowledge begets wisdom.

But sometimes need, desire, and effort also beget pain.



The next morning Thomas and Toni arrived at the chocolate shop an hour early. They sat at a window table. The shop was a half block from the firm where Floyd worked.

Toni asked, “Tell me again, who are we spying on and why?” Before Thomas could utter a syllable she added, “And tell me why we aren’t going to get into trouble because of this?”

Thomas waited a couple of seconds to ensure that all questions had been asked. Then he said, “I was thinking about this whole thing for the last few nights. I don’t think that we’re going to learn anything by the four of us sitting around talking all of the time. We have to start gathering information. I don’t know much about any of the new people, but I thought that we might start with the new guy that’s been working with Floyd. I think that there’s something strange, if not rotten, about him. I think that he’s been influencing Floyd for the worse.”

“Well, that would not be much of a challenge,” interrupted Toni. “Wouldn’t that be like offering a dog a steak?”

“Whether it’s hard or easy I still think that it’s happening and I want to try to figure out what’s going on.”

“So what are you going to do?” Toni was not sure she really wanted to know the answer.

“It’s not just what I am going to do. I am hoping that all of us will get involved. I think that we should follow him,” answered Thomas.


“Yea, you, me, Russell, and Sarah. It will be easier if more of us are involved. I noticed that he always leaves work at precisely 5:00. I thought that maybe we could keep our distance and see where he goes. We can start out as a group and then at various intervals one of us can peel off. That way it won’t be as obvious to him that he’s being followed.”

“OK, just for the sake of arguing, suppose we are able to follow him without him figuring it out. So what do you expect to discover at the end of the road? Do you think that he’ll lead you to some abandoned warehouse basement filled with hexagrams and chicken bones?”

Noooo,” said Thomas trying to emphasize that this was a little more serious. “But I would like to find out where he lives.”

“And then what; break into his house and go through his pockets, look for false bottoms in dresser drawers, hack into his laptop?” Toni said with not a little sarcasm.
                “You obviously have little understanding of the potential sinister mystery of this situation.” He paused. “Actually, I don’t have even the vaguest idea what I’m going to do.”

“So basically you’re going to build an airplane while flying it.”

“I’m taking this one very slow step at a time. First I want to see where he lives and if he is living with anyone else. If he and that guy who’s been after Terese…”


“…are roommates then it does rather point to a conspiracy does it not? But I guess ultimately I’m not really sure what I’m looking for.”

“Then how will you know when you’ve found it?”

“I don’t. Maybe it’ll be like discovering Penicillin; something accidental and fortuitous will be right in front of me.”

“And you’ll save the world?”

“Just Jabesh will be fine with me.” Thomas paused and leaned towards the window until his shoulder touched the glass. Then he bolted back upright as if he were on a spring. “Here he comes! What’s he doing? It’s way too early.” Thomas stared intently at his watch.

Toni was now twisted and looking out the window. “How did you know that he would come this way?”

Thomas was now distracted. “I did some reconnaissance yesterday,” he said quickly.

“Oh my. This is getting worse,” proclaimed Toni with exasperated concern.

Thomas hushed her.

Sure enough, the man passed in front of the window. He was tall, appeared to be of foreign descent, and quite good-looking. He seemed to be in his late thirties. Thomas was panicky; the others weren’t there. He did not have much of a plan but what little there was just went up in flames.

When the man got a good half-block away Thomas got up.

“Let’s go,” he said craning his neck to see down the block.

“You are not serious! What about the others?”

“Come on, we can’t wait for them; we’ll lose him.”

Toni very reluctantly lifted herself up as though her clothes were made of wood. Thomas was very excited.

“Come on,” he whispered loudly. He practically snatched her out the door.

They saw the man walking briskly away. They adapted the same pace. When he turned a corner Thomas got nervous worrying that they might lose him but each time they turned the same corner he was still in sight.

He was heading towards the southwest corner of town where things were grimier and old buildings left to decay. This intrigued and excited Thomas even more.

The man never once looked back which was good because traffic here was infrequent and it would have been easy for him to spot the two of them and conclude that they were trailing him.

Neither Thomas nor Toni spoke even in a whisper thinking that any sound here would be amplified due to the lack of competition.

Without even hesitating, the man opened a door and entered a particularly dilapidated building.

Toni and Thomas stopped.

“That’s the old liquor factory,” whispered Thomas. “Maybe we will find a basement with hexagrams and chicken bones.” He meant that as a small joke, but why would someone leave work in the middle of the day and go to an abandoned warehouse? Obviously, something significant was going on in there. Thomas knew that if they could figure out what it was then it would fill in a good portion of the puzzle. He was betting that this time the berries would be poisonous and someone would step into his hole.

“Perhaps this would be a good time to turn back and examine what we know,” whispered Toni.

“What we know? We don’t know anything. It’s only just now starting to get interesting.”

“We can’t leave the others waiting for us. They’ll be worried.”
                Thomas countered, “It’s only a little after 10:00. We’ll be back in time.”

“Well, we can’t just go in there. We don’t know who might be waiting. Maybe there’s a whole group of them. Maybe someone saw us coming.”

“Nobody saw us coming,” said Thomas somewhat indignantly.

“How do you know? Can you see into the shadows of every broken window?”

“No, but if we don’t go in now then when will we?”

“Never sounds real good to me,” remarked Toni.

“Well, I’m going in even if it’s just to poke my head in the door. I have to see what is going on. If he lives in there then he’s a squatter and we wouldn’t even have to break in to look at his stuff.” Thomas started walking quickly.

Toni paused and then hurried to catch up. “So you do want to rifle through his belongings. I’m sure he won’t mind. Maybe he’ll even reward us by twisting our heads off.”

Shhh,” Thomas said sternly.

They were getting near to the door. Thomas said, “You can go home if you want, I would understand.”

“No way, I’m not going to let you go in there by yourself.”

They reached the gray, metal door. It was open about a foot. They stopped, took deep breaths, and peeked inside. It was too dark to see anything. Toni looked at Thomas. Without even looking back he very slowly opened the door and they both crept inside. The door slapped shut behind them causing them both a great startle.

It was dim; the light clotted at the grimy windows. The air was as thin as the edge of a knife. They were first struck by a gaggle of smells all of which were retching: liquor, urine, tobacco smoke and some things worse.

Their eyes adjusted. They had entered a large room with a ceiling as high as a cathedral. The gray walls were peeling like dead skin. Everything was filthy. There were numerous beer cans, several piles of liquor bottles, broken glass, and enough cigarette butts to start a plantation. The trash littered the floor like bodies on a battlefield. It was now home to numerous spiders and flies with shortened lives.

No one was to be seen. They listened carefully.

There was a distant echo of footsteps that came from a corridor to the left. Thomas pointed that way. Toni looked pale. They scurried as quietly as possible across the room and stopped at the entrance to the corridor. It immediately turned to the right so they could not see anything without going in.

They cautiously stepped into the corridor. The walls were peeling yellow paint. Pipes of various diameters ran along the top half of the walls and the ceiling. They were too busy avoiding the rubbish on the floor to notice anything else. They walked a couple of feet before they looked down the corridor. They could see the man about 100 feet away at the far end. He was stopped and facing them. They froze. The hair stood up on their necks. They felt as though the blood had drained from their bodies.

With something between a growl and a hiss he changed. It was at once confusing and unnerving. They both squinted hard to focus. It was as though his skin was moving all over but at the same time he remained in exactly the same position. His eyes remained riveted on Toni and Thomas with a malevolent gaze and yet the rest of him swirled like smoke yet never breaking the sharp outline of his silhouette. The sight was fantastic until the two of them were able to truly discern what he had become and then they would have fallen backwards in horror had they not been riveted to the floor.

It was as though his skin had become transparent and in the hollow that was now his body had been poured to capacity with dozens of snakes. They slithered over and between each other, around his head, up and down his arms and legs and throughout every part. The smallest ones moved sinuously in his fingers while the larger ones curled around each other while traveling around his chest, up into his head and then back down into his legs. Yet all the while they never extended outside of where his skin would be. But there was no skin. Their motion was continuous and both mesmerizing and horrific. Only the man’s eyes remained static. Had Thomas and Toni been forced to touch him the scales would have glided over their fingers. They could have put their arms through his body and out through his back while the snakes crawled over and around their flesh. His eyes were gleaming slits.

Then he took a few steps towards them. His movements were as natural as ever and yet now his true substance was exposed. Thomas and Toni’s hearts pounded and sweat rapidly saturated their shirts like no physics could ever explain. If he charged they would probably never even move an inch. They were completely hopeless. He could devour the both of them with no resistance.

But then he stopped and raised his arms. The snakes writhed and tangled around themselves with greater intensity. A large snake stopped just where his mouth was. It opened wide its mouth in exactly the same place where the man’s natural mouth would be. Its thick, curved fangs hung menacingly for a few seconds and then a loud guttural hiss burst out like a fast train exiting a tunnel. Thomas and Toni had to cover their ears. She stumbled and fell backwards onto the ground.

Just then two of the pipes running along the ceiling broke free and fell on either side of Thomas. Toni yelped and pushed herself away. Then the pipes moved and twisted themselves around Thomas like violent, iron snakes. He did not even have the chance to move. They encircled his legs and wrapped themselves around his chest and neck. One of his arms was pinned against his body. Then they stopped. He was imprisoned.

A forked tongue flickered out of the snake-man’s mouth. He appeared pleased. And then, he turned and disappeared around the corner to the left.

“Thomas! Thomas! Are you alright?” Toni was frantic. She wanted to grab the pipes but was too afraid that they would snatch and engulf her also.

“Help me! Help me!” yelled Thomas. He was unable to move anything. All that he could do was flap his one free arm.

After several reluctant attempts, Toni finally grabbed one of the pipes and tugged. It did not budge.

“I don’t know what to do!” she cried out. “Maybe I should go get help.”
                “You can’t leave me here with him!”

“What do you want me to do?”
                “I… I don’t know! See if there is something you can use as a pry bar.”

She was snapping her head in every direction trying to find something—anything.

Then there was a noise. Or more correctly, many noises—from all around.

“What… what is it?” Thomas could not move his head since it was wrapped so tightly.

“I don’t know.” Toni was furiously looking all over; but it was so dim.

She stepped out into the large room. Thomas yelled, “Don’t leave me!”

Then she saw them. There were easily hundreds coming towards them from all directions. Rats. But these were no common rats. Instead of scurrying, stopping, sitting up, looking around and then scurrying again; they came forward with focused determination. They were crouched low and fixed their eyes unwaveringly on their single target—Thomas. They were large—at least three times bigger than ordinary rats or like—one might say—rats with gym cards—and their blackness only emphasized their bulging, red eyes. Whether driven by hunger or wrath was inconsequential; Thomas would be torn apart.

Both Thomas and Toni saw them although Thomas, not able to move his head, only saw them coming down the corridor from where the snake-man had been. They filled the width of the corridor floor for some twenty feet deep. Some were on the overhead pipes that were still attached to the ceiling; others were stalking on the pipes running along the walls.

Thomas shouted, “Do something! You’ve got to do something!” He was wiggling mightily but could not affect his imprisonment one bit.

Toni was scanning everywhere while futilely screaming to no one, “What? What?”

“Throw something,” yelled Thomas.

Toni scooped up some beer cans and bottles and began throwing them at the rats. She was a pitching machine on amphetamines. She grunted with each throw and was blindly hurling them in any direction at the encroaching horde.

The rats paused momentarily. A few that were actually hit protested loudly with great offense. But this delay was, as noted, momentary. Thomas was beyond helpless. He might as well be a chicken being lowered upside-down into an alligator pit.

Toni, seeing the despair of the situation, was faintly calling out, “Help. We need some help.” But it was so weak that no one could really have heard.

As the rats advanced they seemed to grow in excitement in anticipation of their blood meal.

“Help. We need some help. Please God send some help” again came the faint cry as she continued pitching bottles and cans. The area around her was becoming vacant of ammunition. She could not even look back at Thomas because she was afraid that she would see the inevitable scene of his being helplessly swarmed by the vicious vermin. Even his soon-coming shrieks were already echoing in her head. She weakly threw her last bottle and sobbed, “God, save us.”

There was a bang of a metal door wildly hitting the wall. Across the large room Toni could only see a large dark shadow sprinting towards her. “This is it,” she thought as she backed against the wall and braced herself for the onslaught. She hoped that her death would at least be quick.

As the figure got closer she could make him out better. It was Jocum. Toni was perplexed, her face stained with dirt and tears. Did he save them before so that he could destroy them now? Was he in cohorts with the snake-man? In four large leaps he crossed through the pack of rats while they jumped at him and then he landed right in front of Toni facing her. She closed her eyes.

He said, “Take courage” and turned and stood in front of her. In the corner to their left was a pile of liquor bottles. He dashed over and gathered up a number of them.

“Get me some matches,” he yelled at Toni, “now!”

This was not hard to accomplish seeing how every conceivable thing that could be smoked apparently had been in this place.

Jocum dashed back to Toni and put most of the bottles on the floor. Toni wondered why she had not noticed that pile before. Then taking one of the liquor bottles he emptied the remaining contents in an arc several feet in front of the closest rats. He did this with several more bottles until the arc formed a semi-circle from wall to wall.

“Give me the matches,” he yelled.

Toni handed him one book with three matches left. Jocum lit one and flung it at the arc. It went up with a gush. There was a small wall of fire. The rats stood on their hind legs and screamed maliciously. None were near the flames but this unexpected delay further antagonized them. While Toni was in amazement at the entire spectacle, Jocum was already repeating his firewall in the corridor but this time after he emptied a bottle he pitched it at a rat on one of the pipes knocking it to the floor.

A problem was that the layer of alcohol being so thin could not sustain the fire but for less than a minute.

Jocum yelled, “Keep throwing alcohol at the fire.”

Toni quickly obeyed. This kept the barrier up longer. Each time she emptied a bottle she hurled it at the nearest rat. Her aim seemed supernatural. Each bottle sent a hissing rat tumbling backwards.

“Don’t forget about the ones in the corridor,” he again yelled.

With Toni dashing about keeping the rats at bay Jocum grabbed the end of one of the entwined pipes. He braced his foot against the wall and with a loud grunt pulled hard on the pipe. Nothing happened. Just then one of the rats on an overhead pipe leaped onto his neck and bit hard into his flesh. An abundance of blood flowed freely and soaked the top of his shirt. Jocum yelled and reaching behind his head snatched the rat. Pulling it free was not easy but with a quick jerk he tore it out and threw it down the corridor. Seeing that no more were immediately ready to leap onto him he yelled out, “Don’t forget about the ones on the pipes!”

Thomas’ eyes were bulging like golf balls. “Hurry! Hurry!” he was screaming.

Jocum went back to the pipe and pulled again. After a few seconds there was the creak of metal and the pipe began to bend. Once he had gained the momentum he was able to unwind it by several turns. But by then it had unwound so much that the end now hit the wall and would not move anymore. Thomas was far from being free.

Toni was running out of liquor bottles and energy. She had restocked a couple of times but now the rats on that side had overrun the pile and so she could not get to it anymore. The flames were getting lower. The rats were waiting for their moment.

Jocum put his right foot halfway up the unwound pipe. Then he simultaneously jumped up putting both feet together on the pipe and yanked hard with his hands on the free end of the pipe. There was not time for an elegant solution; brute force had to be the answer. After each quick yank he had to land on the floor again with both feet lest he topple over. This action was carried out over and over again and each time the pipe bent ever so slightly. But with enough of these slight bends he was able to get it to a 90° angle, enough to clear the wall. This allowed him to continue with the untwisting and he managed to unwrap two more loops. That was enough for Thomas to step out of that pipe if he could. The problem now was that a second pipe was still tightly entwined with part of it being wrapped around his neck like a noose so that he could not pull his head through.

Time was now extremely short. Toni had taken to rolling up some papers and cardboard, lighting the ends with a match, and waving them around like torches. But as a stalling tactic its effect was minimal. The rats may have been coming more slowly but their advancement was none-the-less relentless.

The great mass in the corridor were now two-thirds of the way down and moving like a black undulating force. They were so numerous that you could not even see the floor.

Jocum ran over to the corner of the corridor behind Thomas who screamed, “Don’t leave me!” He grabbed a few bottles scattered there and hurled them in front of the pack scattering and sprayed alcohol along the floor and walls. “Toni, throw me some matches, quick!” Toni snatched a pack off of the floor and flung them side-armed to Jocum. He caught them and with unbelievable quickness ran past Thomas to the liquid on the floor, lit a match, and tossed it onto the alcohol. The pack backed away and shrieked horribly. He then turned back to Thomas.

Meanwhile the rats in the main room were tightening the arc around Toni. They swayed menacingly as they got closer. She managed to find a few more bottles to empty and light in front of them but that gained mere seconds.

Jocum grabbed the end of the second pipe, jumped up, and with both feet braced against the wall strained every muscle until it began to bend. He continued pressing hard with his legs against the wall until he had fully extended himself. Then his feet slide from the wall and hit the floor hard while he held his exhausted self up with the pipe that he was clutching. But it was enough. Thomas, though with much difficulty and a number of deep scrapes across his face and arms, managed to squeeze his head down through the circle of the pipe. He then pulled his legs up through the remaining curls losing a shoe in the process.

With her barely managing to restrain the rats in the main room Toni had forgotten about the ones in the corridor. Furious with their loss of a blood meal they sought vengeance and leaped and swarmed about Jocum’s legs tearing with rage his pants and flesh.

Thomas, now free, barely took one step and with his shoeless foot stepped down hard on a broken, jagged bottle. The edge cut long and deep into his foot. Every muscle tightened like stone. His eyes clenched and he released a faint moan. He bent down to the floor like a puppet whose strings were released.

Jocum swatted away rats until he found a brief moment when none of them had recovered enough to rejoin the attack. He then snatched up Thomas with one arm, ran over and with his other arm did the same with Toni and ran threw the pack of hissing rats to the door. He kicked the door open with his foot leaving a smattering of blood on it. He raced across the street and down half a block before collapsing against a brick building. Blood like puddles from a rainstorm trailed from the door. Whether they were from Thomas or Jocum one could not tell.

The blood was dripping from the already saturated sock of Thomas’ cut foot. The pain was even more intense than at first and now it was throbbing.

Jocum said, “We don’t have time to rest. We need to get your foot looked at and pronto.”

“But what about you?” Toni cried out addressing Jocum.

His pants were shredded. Strips of cloth hung with loose pieces of flesh. The back of his neck was raw. He was easily losing more blood than Thomas.

“I’ll be taken care of also,” he replied.

Toni removed her sneakers and pulled off her socks.

Thomas moaned, “What are you doing?”

She handed Thomas one of the socks. “Here, press this against your heel, it’ll help stem the tide.” She handed Jocum the other sock. “Here press this one…” and looking at the multiplicity of wounds said, “somewhere.”

Jocum took the sock with much gratitude. “Thanks. Now put on your sneakers; we have to get going.”

Jocum stood up and looked at Toni. “Can I assume that you are unhurt and can walk on your own? I mean other than the physical and mental exhaustion.”

“Absolutely,” she replied.

“And you,” now looking at Thomas who was holding Toni’s sock against his heel and grimacing with grave seriousness. “You will have to be carried.” With that he lifted Thomas in his two massive arms. “Keep that sock tight.”

They hurried back to the center of town. No one was around. Though it was hard to tell, it seemed that there were sounds following them from within each of the abandoned buildings that they passed. But what was doubly odd was that nothing ever ran from the one building that the three of them had just passed to the next one. It was like each building had its own set of… things. Jocum tried his best to appear that he had heard nothing. He did not want to alarm Thomas and Toni any more than they already were. He set his face like flint and pushed on ahead.

But he was concerned. Thomas was losing too much blood for any more attacks. Even if Jocum could rescue them again and again each delay could ultimately prove fatal.

They had walked like this for several blocks when Toni said between loud gasps of breath, “The hospital is on the other side of town. It will take us a long time to get there at this pace. I don’t think that Thomas is looking that well.”

Indeed Thomas was growing weak. Of course any number of causes contributed to this from the loss of blood, to the bruises from the pipes, to the trauma of being nearly devoured by vermin.

Jocum smiled, “Well then, we’ll just have to quicken the pace.”

Toni answered, “I don’t think that I can go any faster.” She was quite exhausted and wanted nothing more than to lie down on the sidewalk and close her eyes. “You two go on ahead and I’ll meet you there.” Though she was completely sincere she was hoping that someone would offer a better solution. She had heard those sounds in the other warehouses also and they had unnerved her. Fortunately the great urgency of the circumstances crippled her imagination and so kept her focus on the immediate situation and away from hysterics.

“That’s not the quicker pace that I mean,” replied Jocum. Just then a car sped around the corner and stopped right next to them.

“Ah, Abil, you are always a timely fellow. Toni, can you please open the back door?”

Toni was rather startled by this turn of events and just stood there.

“Any time within the next hour would be suitable although sooner rather than later would be appreciated.” Jocum smiled.

Toni was brought back to life and hurried over to the door and opened it. At the same time Abil got out and rushed across the front of the car to open the front passenger’s door. He looked at Jocum and Thomas’ wounds.

“Been in a bit of a tussle, have you? We’ll get you fixed up right quick now.”

Jocum gently lowered Thomas into the back seat. Thomas winced at even the slightest jarring. Toni ran around the car and got into the other side of the back seat. Jocum got into the front and they were off.

Abil looked in the rearview mirror and said to the two, “We’ll be at the hospital before a hungry dog can swallow a sausage.”
                “Cute,” said Jocum.

Jocum turned and asked Toni, “So what were the two of you doing in that abandoned warehouse anyway? And don’t tell me that you made a wrong turn and got lost.”

Toni sheepishly turned her head to look out the window. She said meekly, “We were doing, uh…spying.”

Jocum replied, “I see.” And then he turned back towards the front because they were at the hospital already.

Toni was startled. “How did you get here so fast? You weren’t even speeding.”

Jocum smiled and said, “Toni, can you run in and let them know that we are coming? Then call your Mom and tell her where we are. Oh and after you are do that, wash up and take a breather.” Toni obeyed more quickly this time. Just as she opened the door Jocum yelled to her, “Wait!” She stopped like she had become granite. “Here, I have something for you.” He leaned back and handed her a small, brown paper bag. “Honey wafers. They’ll give you some quick energy.” She took the bag and waited.

“Now you can finish what you need to do,” he said making a scooting motion with his hand.

Abil came around and lifted Thomas out of the car and carried him into the Emergency Room. A nurse directed him to put Thomas on a bed and wheeled him behind a white curtain. Toni watched until he completely disappeared. Then she turned to make sure that Jocum was next, but he was not there. In fact, Abil was not there either. She ran to the glass door. Even the car was gone.


After her mother arrived and she had a chance to calm down and eat a few of Jocum’s delicious wafers Toni called Russell’s house. She apologized to him for their not being there at eleven.

“We were both worried. It’s not like either of you to miss an appointment, let alone a convening.” From the tone of his voice it was obvious that he had been sincerely worried but that he was not feeling slighted. “What happened? We actually wondered if someone or something had captured you.”

Toni just said, “We’re OK now, somewhat, I guess. We’re at the hospital.”
                The hospital!”

Toni continued, “Yes, but we’re OK. Why don’t you and Sarah come over tonight to my house at say, 7:30 and I’ll tell you what happened.”

“7:30? Forget it. We’ll be at the hospital within an hour.” There was a pause. “Is it really gruesome? I mean, if not, then can I bring Danielle? But I don’t want her to faint or anything.”

“No, it’s not gruesome and I’ve got some really great wafers for you.”

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: