The Hoax [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Adrienne Jones
eBook Category: Fantasy/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Description: How well do you know your closest friends? Are they loyal? Are they trustworthy? Are they human? A magnetic false prophet with an unnatural power to enchant; a government agent trying to profile an inhuman breed of terrorist; an otherworldly mastermind posing as an out of work beach bum. And the man in the middle, Patrick Obrien, a humble accountant who discovers his best friends are more than they seem. As he struggles to escape their trap to use him in a global catastrophe scheme, Patrick finds himself ensnared by the FBI agent, who pits him against the very people he is running from.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, Published: 2006, 2006
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2006
10 Reader Ratings:
Alcoholics define rock bottom as that hellish yet divine moment when they can sink no lower into the pit of poisoned madness. At this point there are two choices. One is to let the hole collapse, and suffocate in the self-dug grave. The other is to begin a painful escalation upward. Charles Duvaine did neither. Though he had given up the bottle weeks before, he still lingered midway down, wedged between the walls of the pit, daring it one last chance to suck him into the molten core and incinerate him. While free of intoxicants, he was prisoner to his despair, leaving his bed only when his biological functions demanded it.
But rock bottom found Charles despite his indifference. It rose to greet him that morning in the form of a tiny clawed foot pressing against his lower lip. As slumber's grip loosened, he felt the trail of fur on his cheek, a brush of silken pelt. His eyelids fluttered. In a tumble of sheets he launched himself out of bed, swatting the rat off of his face with a yelp. The creature hit the floor and broke into a panicked scuttle, running in circles until it finally took refuge under a pile of dirty laundry. Charles looked down at the rumpled bed, where black pellets dotted his white sheets. "Oh, that does it," he said, wincing. "This has got to end today."
He examined the rest of his bedroom, repulsed. The previously beige carpet was now a blotchy abstract of curious stains. Laundry formed misshapen mountains across the floor, eclipsed only by six months of neglected trash. His eyes were drawn back to the rat droppings on his sheets and his jaw stiffened. It was bad enough that he'd let his once lovely beach house fall to hovel. But now he had rats, the token representatives of degeneracy.
He'd seen them in the house lately, phantom dust bunnies disappearing into corners as he glanced their way. He'd tolerated the random sightings, telling himself that he'd hire an exterminator when he was fully recovered. It seemed he'd have to bump up that deadline. His tolerance did not stretch to waking up with one of the damn things on his head.
He managed a sleepy grin as he tugged his bathrobe on. Part of him relished the disgust he felt. It was an indication that he was returning to normal. Two weeks ago he would have barely flinched upon waking with a rodent on his head. But he hadn't been sober then. An army of rats could have marched across his face, waving banners and beating tiny war drums. He either wouldn't have noticed or wouldn't have cared.
His bare feet padded the carpet as he moved from his bedroom to the outer hall, dodging empty rum bottles and pyramids of trash along the way. Morning sun streamed through the skylights, serving only to better display the filth he'd created. There was barely a square foot not soiled with some manner of garbage. The beach house had three floors and more rooms than he could count, and he'd succeeded in shitting up all of it. Bravo for consistency.
Clinging to the railing, he moved down the flight of steps that spiraled into the first floor. To his delight, his legs were free of the tremors he'd experienced when he'd first given up the bottle. Pausing, he surveyed the squalor below. The anesthetic shield of drunkenness had been lifted and he could now clearly view the mess he'd made of his house. And his life. He flinched, watching a rat exit a pizza box. Again, his revulsion comforted him, validating his return to the world of the living. I cringe, therefore I am.
In the kitchen he counted thirteen red lines drawn through the previous days on the calendar. He picked up the marker and made another triumphant slash. He'd been sober for two weeks. It might not sound like much to an outsider, but having been drunk for six months, Charles viewed it as quite an accomplishment. Flipping through the phone book, he chose a cleaning service called 'Fresh Start'. The name seemed to correlate with his current mission. He wondered if they could get the house back to its original splendor, the way it had been before he'd gone into a state of drunken recluse.
Charles hadn't planned on becoming a drunk, but he supposed no one ever did. He didn't wake one morning and randomly decide to kill enough brain cells to devolve him on the evolutionary scale. He glanced at the empty rum bottle in the kitchen sink, with its colorful illustration of the virile Captain Morgan. They should change the label, he thought, and replace the jolly pirate with a drawing of Cro-Magnon man. It would more accurately depict the liquor's effect on modern man. But that wasn't fair to the rum company. Nobody told Charles to drink a bottle a day for six months. He'd written that prescription himself.
In his meager defense, his list of gripes was a long one. Tragedy had walloped him twice in under a year. They'd never found the culprit that hit his wife Marie's car, sending her over a guardrail to her death. An accident, the police had said. He hated the word. Accident. It made it all sound so simple, like spilling a glass of milk.
It was a mere three months later that Jeffrey was speared in the throat on a hunting trip. Mistaken for a deer, the police had said to Charles. His vibrant twenty-one year old son, mistaken for a piece of venison steak. Marie's death had been shattering enough, but hearing the news about his son had been like swallowing poison. He knew that once it sank in, it would slowly kill him. And since he'd always felt that quicker was better, he determined to help the process along with a little poison of his own. Captain Morgan was glad to oblige.
So Charles became a cliché, crawling inside of a bottle to escape the pain. He'd turned easily to the bitterness, like one of those 'life done me wrong' characters in a tough guy movie. Of course those guys were always portrayed as deep romantic figures sitting in darkened rooms, swilling Scotch from short crystal glasses. You never saw Mel Gibson passing out on the kitchen floor or urinating into a four thousand-dollar vase, as Charles had done one night. Talk about pissing your money away.
During his binge, he'd convinced himself that his family had been cursed. He realized now that this was ridiculous. No family was cursed. Except maybe the Kennedys. It was fear of this imagined curse that prompted his retreat from his oldest son Joey, his last living child. He had abandoned Joey, thinking it in his best interest to steer clear of his cursed father, lest he have an accident too. Perhaps 'abandoned' was not the right word. Joey was twenty-eight years old, hardly a child. Still, Joey had needed his father and Charles had not been there for him.
His heart was heavy as he recalled Joey pounding on the beach house door, begging his father to come out of seclusion. He would make his amends to Joey, but not before he got himself and his surroundings cleaned up. Joey had been through enough without having to witness the disgrace his father had allowed himself to become.
With this thought, he dialed the number of the cleaning service and spoke briefly with a man who agreed to send someone out for an assessment. Charles imagined their reaction upon entering the house, which looked so well kept from the outside. He'd mentioned the horrendous condition of the rugs, but the man insisted that his service could clean any carpet. He probably figured Charles was some uptight cad from the rich neighborhood, belly aching about a little spilled caviar. They were in for a shocker.
A cockroach scuttled into the rum bottle in the sink, reminding Charles that he also had to call an exterminator. He was reaching for the phone when the doorbell rang.
The sound startled him. He certainly wasn't expecting company. Up until two weeks ago the sound of the doorbell meant that the booze had arrived. For months he'd survived, if one could call it that, by having sausage pizzas delivered daily, along with a bottle of spiced rum. Rum and pizza. What more could a man want? Quite a bit more, he'd finally decided, which was why he'd cancelled all further deliveries from the liquor store.
The doorbell buzzed again.
"I'll be right there!" he called out, pulling his filthy bathrobe together to hide his even filthier tee shirt. He stopped at the gold rimmed mirror and gave himself a once over. All of his life he'd been hearing about how handsome he was. If my friends could see me now! His black hair was arranged in greasy points. The tufts of gray at each temple, which had once given him a distinguished air, now stuck out on either side of his head lending him a mad scientist look. His pale blue eyes had turned an ominous gray, just a shade lighter than the circles beneath them. The doorbell persisted. Charles decided that whatever asshole was at the door deserved to see him looking this way, for showing up at nine in the morning on a Saturday.
When he opened the door he thought he had begun hallucinating. The young man on the porch was dressed in a red naval jacket, with gold trim and a double run of gold buttons down the front. He wore a matching red pirate style hat and a large gold hoop in one ear. The hair was definitely a wig. Thick black curls ran down the stranger's shoulders nearly to his waist. The face make up was as white as his gloves. He looked ready for a stage performance. The eyes were over done as well, with thick black liner and lashes that had to be false. Charles blinked, shaking his head in an attempt to clear his vision. The Captain Hook drag queen was still there.
"May I, um, may I help you?"
The thing smiled. "Mr. Duvaine?"
"Yes, I'm Charles Duvaine. What can I do for you?"
"Hello, Mr. Duvaine. I'm Kenny from Forest Bluffs Liquors. I have a special delivery for you."
Charles shook his head. "There must be some mistake. I cancelled all deliveries from your store two weeks ago."
The oddity put one gloved hand to his mouth. "Oh I am so sorry! I don't know how this could have happened!" His vocal inflection was so sing-song that either he was openly gay or he was putting it on.
Charles gave the young man a look. "That's okay. Don't worry about it. Why are you dressed like that?"
"Oh this?" he said, doing a little spin. "It's Forest Bluffs Liquors twentieth anniversary. It was the boss's idea that we dress up for deliveries. I'm Captain Morgan. Get it?"
Charles forced an awkward smile. "Yeah, I get it."
"It is your drink of choice, isn't it?" the pirate asked as he pulled a bottle out of a velvet sack on his waistcoat. Charles stared at the tall thin bottle with its enticing amber liquid and miniature picture of Captain Morgan, which looked eerily like the stranger at his door. He felt his resolve stumble a bit as the liquid in the bottle swished back and forth in the stranger's gloved hand. A wave of dizziness overtook him and he clung to the door for support.
The pirate's smile dropped. "Hey, are you okay?" he asked, taking Charles's arm and leading him inside to the nearest chair. Charles put his head between his knees, forcing long full breaths until the tremor passed. He sat up finally, embarrassed. The delivery boy glanced around the room and wrinkled his nose at the trash. He tried to hide the gesture by coughing, but Charles had seen it.
"Thanks. You can go now. I'm fine," he said.
"Are you sure?" the stranger asked, with concern that seemed genuine.
"I'm sure. I haven't been feeling well lately, but I'm fine now. Really."
The Captain Morgan thing nodded. "I understand. I have just the thing." To Charles's amazement, the kid swished over to the dry bar and grabbed a glass from the display. He unscrewed the cap of the bottle and poured a few ounces of the golden liquid into it. Charles watched stunned as the boy returned with the glass and knelt down, waving it under his nose. "This is what you need, isn't it? This will make you feel much better."
The fumes invaded Charles's nostrils and his mouth began to water. It had to be a bad dream. Was he still sleeping? Asleep or awake, it was time to order Kenny the delivery boy out of his house. "Please go," Charles said, his voice strained. "I don't want a drink. I've canceled my orders with your store. Go back and take me out of your computer."
The pirate stranger remained kneeling before him, grinning like an overgrown theatre puppet. "But this will make you feel better. Won't it Charles?"
Charles couldn't believe the kid's brazenness. And when did he say the little punk could call him by his first name? He lashed out and knocked the glass out of the stranger's gloved hand. It bounced onto the rug and liquor shot out in a spray of amber. The pirate stared down at the spilled rum, scratching his chin. Black-rimmed eyes looked up at Charles with mock concern.
"That's going to leave a stain," he said, suppressing a smirk.
Charles leaned forward in his chair. "Maybe you don't hear so well. I asked you to leave. Can't you see that I'm detoxing here? Now take your bottle and get out before I call the police."
The kid stood finally. He went back across the room and snatched the open bottle off the dry bar. Charles was sure he would leave immediately, after the way he'd been berated. Instead, he sighed deeply and walked back to the middle of the room. "You're not being very cooperative, Charles. After all, I've come to give you what you want."
Charles stared at the costumed stranger, the first shivers of fear tightening his stance as he realized that something was very wrong here. "That's ridiculous," he said. "I don't even know you. How the hell would you know what I want?"
The pirate chuckled. "Well it's obvious isn't it? Just look at this place." He did a little twirl, gesturing at the mess with his hand. "You've been holed up here for months, Charles. You quit your job. You've cut yourself off from your friends," he hesitated, "from your son."
The words slapped Charles. "How do you know about my son? Who are you?"
The stranger took a step closer. His painted face had gone blank. "You want to disappear, Charles. I'm here to help you do that. That is what you want, isn't it? To disappear?"
He continued toward Charles, swinging the bottle rhythmically from side to side. Instinct told Charles to run for the door, but he didn't trust his trembling legs. The stranger stopped before the chair and offered the bottle. Charles glared at him, waiting for his strength to return so he could either escape or beat the little son of a bitch to a pulp. Closing the distance, he pushed the rum bottle nearer until it was mere inches from Charles's lips.
"I quit drinking!" Charles said through clenched teeth.
The kid shook his head. "Not today."
Charles made his face as hateful as possible. "Get the hell out of my house."
The kid studied him a moment, then turned away, circling the room as he spoke. "Okay, Charles. Enough with the pleasantries. You have been an enormous pain in the ass to me. Do you know that? I've had to readjust my entire schedule to accommodate your little whims."
"What? I don't even know you. What the hell do you want from me?"
He shrugged. "What do I want? Well, that's a long story. I wouldn't want to bore you with the details. Actually, that's a lie. The truth is I don't want to bore myself telling you the details. So I'll put it to you frankly. I need your blood, Charles. Your blood. Trust me when I tell you that it is very important."
Charles frowned, confused in spite of his fear. "My blood? So you mean to kill me?"
The pirate raised an eyebrow. "Kill you? You see, that's interesting. The thing is, you were supposed to kill yourself, Charles. It would have been so easy. One of those drunken nights, I could have slit your wrists with your own razor while you were passed out. Nobody would have known the difference. They all would have assumed you did it to yourself, what with your being a basket case and all. But no. You had to quit drinking and fuck it all up!" The painted face flared with anger for an instant, then the maddened smile returned.
"What on earth are you talking about?" Charles asked.
"Don't you get it, Charles? Nobody is going to believe that you killed yourself if you're suddenly stone cold sober and calling cleaning services to come to your house. Now I'm a patient man, Charles, but your little recovery has thrown quite a monkey wrench into my plans. So take the bottle, and drink the damn rum."
Charles narrowed his eyes. "No."
The painted mouth went stiff. "Fine. If you won't take your medicine like a big boy, I'll have to force it on you." With one gloved hand, the costumed stranger thrust out and dragged him from the chair. Charles fought wildly but the kid ultimately toppled him to the floor and pinned his shoulders down with his knees. Charles worked to twist himself free but the sinewy youth had surprising strength, and held him firm. With a curl of his lip, he forced the bottle into Charles's mouth. "Drink it, damn you!"
Charles clenched his teeth, stopping the bottle's penetration just before his tongue. The mystery assailant grabbed his chin, and with a grimace of rage, squeezed his jawbone until sharp waves of pain forced his mouth open. He jammed the bottle into his mouth and down his throat, taking part of a tooth along with it. Charles tasted blood, warm and metallic on his tongue.
At first the rum trickled into his lungs and he choked. He tried spitting it out as quickly as it filled, but eventually he had to swallow to keep from drowning. When the bottle was empty save for an ounce or two, the painted stranger pulled it back and rolled off. Charles turned onto his side and coughed up the burning rum. When he could breathe again, he looked up at his attacker. "Who are you?" It came out as a whisper.
"I'm the answer to your prayers, Charles. I'm going to put you out of your misery."
Charles jerked back guardedly. The kid put his hands to his cheeks in an exaggerated gesture of despair. "Don't look so disappointed! You do want to see your wife again, don't you?"
The comment incensed Charles, and the emotion muscled down the fear. He lunged at the stranger, taking him by surprise. He had his hands gripped tightly around the pirate's neck when a pain ripped through his chest. His lungs seemed to freeze, unable to take in breath. He released his assailant and fell to the floor, gasping, clutching his left arm as agony shot through it in electric waves. Kenny, if that was his real name, stared down at him with a frown.
"Oh you've got to be kidding me. Are you having a heart attack?"
Through his pain and fear, Charles managed to stick his middle finger up. The pirate thing put his hands on his hips and shook his head. "No! You can't have a heart attack! Damn it, Charles. Is there no end to your insistence on screwing up my plans?"
Charles gasped as invisible cotton stuffed his lungs. In his blurring vision, he saw the visitor in the big red hat leaning down to take hold of him. The stranger lifted him to his feet, and Charles hung like a rag doll. "I need your blood, Charles. I thought we established that. How am I supposed to collect your blood if your heart stops pumping?" The stranger studied his surroundings then began dragging Charles toward the adjoining sitting room. The murderous Captain Morgan mumbled to himself as he made his way into the room. He seemed panicked now, which was odd since Charles was the one who was dying. By the time the assailant got Charles into the sitting room, his chest felt like it had a giant fireball burning inside of it.
The pirate bumped into an overstuffed chair, grunting as he maneuvered Charles's limp form toward the glass coffee table. Charles knew what was coming, but hadn't the strength or inclination to fight it. His pirate enemy turned him so that they faced each other, pressed so close Charles could feel his breath. "Don't worry, Mr. Duvaine," he said, the phony sing-song accent gone suddenly. He looked almost sad. "You're going to a better place. I promise. I'm doing you a favor."
That voice, Charles thought deliriously. Something familiar about the voice. Charles knew that voice. But from where? A haze was forming before his eyes and it was getting harder to think.
The young man shoved him. His back shattered the glass table as he plummeted through it. A thousand points of pain lit up on his flesh as he hit the floor, crunching the broken glass beneath him. He'd bought that table in Paris. Strange thoughts to have upon dying. He'd been on vacation with Marie at the time. Marie had loved Paris.
His killer leaned over him, pulling a quart-sized container out of his jacket. Charles couldn't imagine what he was going to do with that. Take his blood? What on earth for? He would never know. He felt the life draining out of him, spilling onto the floor along with his poorly pumping blood. His killer knelt down, moving in close. Charles forced himself to look up into those painted eyes. Just for an instant, he thought he recognized those eyes. Then, as the stranger moved even closer, he was sure that he did.
"You!" Charles gasped.
"Goodbye, Charles." He took the ridiculous red hat off in a gesture of respect.
"You!" Charles whispered again. Then the haze thickened, blotting out all light, and Charles was gone.