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Condemned

The long-awaited sequel to Carpenter's Hammer.

Father Carpenter is down and out- and has to get it together fast, because time is running out and only he can halt the slowly-approaching horror-and save Mankind once again.

Condemned

by
Adrian Kleinbergen

The Titan Foundry had been constructed over eighty years ago and had performed its primary function of smelting iron ore and producing high quality steel. The men who worked there laboured hard and long in the Dante's Inferno of spattering white-hot sparks and bright streams of molten steel pouring forth from vast, slag-caked crucibles. Giant ovens blasted and wailed as incomprehensible heat cooked and coaxed the recalcitrant metal from its ore. Day and night the flames breathed and the steel flowed, the ore-cars dumped and flat cars carried away the slabs, rolls and ingots of the gleamingly refined metal. Money flowed as smoothly as the liquid steel during the wars and the owners futures were assured along with the loyalty of the sweating, fire-tempered muscle of the workmen.
Fortunes rise and fall, as they always do, and after the debacle of Vietnam, military purchasing of raw steel began to slide and fall. Layoffs became commonplace and stocks lost their value. The once mighty Titan Foundry was teetering and there seemed no way to prevent its ultimate collapse. Ruin finally descended when two hapless workers were immolated in a torrent of white-hot steel as it gushed from a wrongly placed crucible.
The ensuing legal melee brought on by the hideous accident would soon drain the dwindling coffers of the company and the site stood abandoned by September of 1975.
For the next twenty-five years, the building stood, empty and silent. The once well-kept grounds and the orderly, fenced off property soon sprouted masses of weeds and high grass. Loose boards, lengths of pipe and other flotsam were piled in various places and the building itself, once stout and solid, began to crumble. The towering smokestacks were now corroded and streaked with rust and multitudes of foul bats were said to inhabit the yawning blackness within. It stood alone and untenanted, slowly corrupting to grey dust and housing only shadows but it was said that some of those shadows moved and creeped and sylphed through the dank mazes of dripping pipe and pitted concrete. Some said the spirits of the two slain workmen still roamed the complex, still going through the throes and contortions of their hideous deaths. There were those who claimed that a mysterious green light sometimes pierced the grime-blackened panes of the high wall of windows that were now pocked with broken shards and empty frames.
The building, however, stood unconcerned.

The blistering sun heliographed jags of light from what was left of the chromed trim on the late-model Pontiac as it pulled into the dry, deserted parking lot behind the abandoned industrial complex. Dust swirled as the big, faded-green auto slid into one of the legions of empty parking stalls that lined the weed-infested lot. Its engine rumbled to a halt and grew silent, roused dust settling upon the car like an affectionate shroud.
The door opened and a big, tired-looking man levered himself out of the sweat-sticky leather seat and stood, a look of resigned loathing fully set in his face as he squinted into the sun.
"Christ Almighty. Why do I have to get these shit jobs on days like this?" The man dug into his pants pocket and pulled out a crumpled, soiled handkerchief already soaked with sweat he had mopped from his balding head and face. Jess Solomon had worked for the State Department of Public Works for twenty years and now that the time of Reward and Promotion had come and gone, passing over him with room to spare, he realised that his loyalty and dedication were not going to get him out of the routine he had silently endured all this time. It was with a sense of betrayed honour that he came to terms with the idea that this was the big prize. No office, no expense account, not even lousy air-conditioning in his lousy company car. He slammed the door with far more force than he needed and walked towards the chain-locked doors of the building. He held a grubby-looking clip-board under his arm and casually propped a battered yellow hard-hat on his moist scalp.
The building that loomed before him bore enormous letters painted high upon its dizzying walls that spelled out Titan Foundry. The letters, now much-faded and chipped were barely legible and the entire building seemed as faded and decrepit as its once-proud sign. Smokestacks stood at attention in quiet ranks and silent air-conditioning units sat squatly, mechanical sentinels slowly corroding and rusting. The grounds surrounding the complex were littered with old planks, shattered wooden pallets, broken bottles and weeds. Large pieces of rusting, abandoned machinery, half-sunk into the dry, cracked ground were like the buried relics of a lost civilisation, slowly eroding away.
He unclipped a massive bunch of tarnished keys that rode on his belt and silently sorted through them until the one that fit the big American Standard padlock was finally found and separated from its kin.
The lock was coated with verdigris but its mechanism was sound and opened with a smooth click. The chain was loosened and the solid, rust-streaked doors were grudgingly ground open.

The man, mopping his clammy forehead, snapped on a small, battered flashlight and entered the dark maw of the building's unconcerned face. Inside, it was surprisingly cool and the man almost grinned in pleasure at the reprieve. The flat, yellow ellipse of his flashlight beam skated over the dusty, debris-strewn floor and he squinted as his eyes tried to recover from the white steel glare of outside. All around him the carcasses of extinct machinery lay, dust thickly blanketing once-spartan metal.
The man dug a thick, worn notebook out of the pocket of his frayed blue jacket, and began to make notes, his light clamped in his teeth.
"This place is a fucking dump" the man said unsympathetically as his nostrils flared with the tangible combined stench of urine, feces and sexual discharges accumulated over a span of decades. The floor, thickly coated with layers of undisturbed dust, showed signs of occasional intrusion, no doubt local teens, there to vandalize, steal or copulate. Here and there, amidst the vast emptiness of the building were the relics of past incursions; the dried husks of spent condoms, cigarette butts, a 50 cent paperback, various candy wrappers and bottles of bygone vintage and even the remains of a small campfire upon the cracked concrete floor.
The man shook his head as he examined the artifacts of teenage humanity and slipped the notebook back in its pocket. Around him, large blocks of unidentifiable machinery loomed. Overturned wheelbarrows, unruly piles of rusting girders and a derelict forklift with rotted tires were the sights that greeted him as he entered an equally large chamber, this one lit by an entire wall of soot-stained, cracked and missing windows. The blazing sun outside was filtered and bleached until only an pale, anemic light shot its thin rays across the gloomy cavern. Here were rows of massive, rectangular slabs with huge rusty doors hung on hinges as thick as his thigh. Above, he could make out a thick metal track mounted into the high ceiling upon which was suspended a vast, iron crucible.
He withdrew his notebook once more, not needing the flashlight now, and scribbled more notes.
"They're gonna have a bitch of a time knocking over this place." he muttered as he wrote. He was already thinking about filling in and posting the 'Condemned' notice; there was no need to finish exploring this crumbling ruin. He once again pocketed the notebook and walked between the dark bulk of the furnaces. Suddenly, a fluttering whirr exploded in his face as grey-white shapes blew past him, dust swirling in clouds. He yelped and jumped back, his arms flying up to his face. Feathers twirled as the sound of flapping wings echoed around the chamber to mix in with shouted curses.
"Goddam pigeons! As if I haven't got enough shit to deal with!" His rage burned slowly and he promised himself a greasy chicken dinner that night as an act of revenge.
He straightened out his jacket, scowling at the distant coo-ing of the grubby birds and completed his circuit of the dormant ovens.
He stopped in mid stride as he saw the bones. On the floor, jacketed with dust, lay a human skeleton. He could make out the flaccid outlines of clothing and the humps that must have been shoes but the rounded, yellowish bulk of the skull was unmistakable. One arm was outstretched, a cheap watch hanging loosely around the bare bones that jutted out of the shirtsleeve. A tarnished ring gleamed dully one slender phalange.
He walked gingerly around the remains, his sweating brow wrinkled in a queasy combination of curiosity and disgust. He yelped out as his foot crunched upon something under the dust. Stepping away, he made out the shape of another skeleton on the floor; he knelt to examine closer. Smaller, more delicate, it seemed to be female as the short, denim skirt and one high-heeled shoe suggested. A gold bracelet winked out of the dust in the pale, filtered light. He stood again, wondering just how to handle this discovery. This complicated matters to their highest level. The building couldn't be levelled until the authorities made a full investigation of these remains. That would mean delays, lost revenue and more blame to add to his already overflowing load. He pulled a dented hip flask from a different pocket and took a deep pull. He sighed and mulled the situation over for a moment. His eyes brightened as he considered the alternative. His finding of these remains could be the key to solving a stale missing person report or even a murder investigation. His discovery could lead to the dramatic arrest of some smug murderer and it... well, there might even be a reward. God, he could sure use some good fortune in his life right now. He might even be finally promoted in return for his good citizenship. He smiled openly now, already spending the bonus money the promotion would earn. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something else.

He noticed a light.

A pale green light shone out from the heavy grille of the door of one of the huge incinerators. It was faint at first and barely noticeable but it was there. Could there still be some kind of pilot light still lit on one of these monster ovens, the man thought, frowning.
He approached the glow spilling out from the vertical slits of the grid.

Calvin Beimler took the geek's money and crammed the bundle of comic books into an actinic-yellow plastic bag splashed with the bright red logo of 'The Komix Kave'.
"Hey, man! Watch how you handle that stuff! Those are valuable speculator items, man." The freckled geek harangued as he readjusted the magazines in the garish bag.
"Yeah, right. Twenty copies of 'Hipshot-girl, number 8' will be worth a cool fortune in about twenty-thousand years." Beimler shot back, resisting an urge to sneer.
"You'll be sorry you mocked me, Beimler." Freckle-geek sniffed as he stalked out the doorway with his treasures clutched under one arm.
The manager, who had watched the exchange with a look of admonishment, turned to Beimler.
"Is it really necessary to torment Willis like that? He's one of my best customers."
Beimler grinned.
"He buys as much as he does to spite me, Darryl. Every time I say a title is shit, Willis has to buy a dozen of them to prove he has better taste than me. Check his file if you don't believe me. He's buying almost everything we order and then some."
"All right. You made your point, Calvin. Anyway, it's five o'clock. Take off and I'll see you tomorrow at ten."
Beimler scooted out from behind the counter and bolted out the door, his black nylon backpack over one shoulder and a backwards-turned Komix-Kave hat jammed on his head.

Willis Frohickey marched down the narrow street, his blemished brow red with fury. He was not a likeable lad and even less, a handsome one. Although he was well into his eighteenth year, he was plagued by adolescent pimples that lined his nostrils, clustered under his lower lip and constellated his forehead. He rarely bathed and changed his clothes even less, rewarding him with the designation of a malodorous slob to be particularly avoided. Willis was only dimly aware of his lack of social graces and hygiene. It was easier, however, to pin the blame of his shortcomings and lack of respect on his peers. In school, he had been mocked by classmates both older and younger than he. Girls stared at him and whispered into each other's ears and laughed behind their hands. His parents ignored him and left him to his own company, which might have been the cruellest cut of all.
It is said that many psychopaths believe in only their own existence; that everyone else they perceive are imaginary and hence, available for his or her pleasure, regardless of what that pleasure may be. Willis Frohickey found a world where he could be King on the day he wandered into the Titan Foundry to kill himself.
He remembered that day as a day of salvation and joy; the first real joy he had ever
experienced in his short life. He had initially entered the ruined factory through a jammed-open air vent on the roof to look for something he could pawn for money and instead, found that here was a place he could finally be alone with the four-colour, newsprint fantasies that served for the life of a normal being. Then, after a few months, he discovered that others had been using his den of solitude and were despoiling it with booze, drugs and fetid sex. His private domicile had been invaded and sullied. His parents, usually oblivious to him, suddenly demanded that he move out and take a job when school was finished. The horror began in earnest when he was soundly rejected at each interview and at last could only accept the position of late-night janitor at the very school he had been tormented at for so long.
The pay had been minimal and the sordid rooming-house he had been forced to abide in swallowed most of his lean paycheque each month. In the daytime, he had trouble sleeping, and took to drink to ease the building depression and misery that slammed shut every door marked hope. Finally, in a fit of weeping, angry self-pity, he went out into the night in the direction of the foundry to end it all in the one place he had found solace.
He entered the air-vent easily, his diet of Ichiban noodles having long since absorbed his one-time paunch, and sought his favourite place; the place he had named the Hall of Ovens.
He entered softly, his footsteps masked by the pillowing of dust and stood aghast at the sight before him: There, on a tattered blanket spread out on the dusty floor of the long-vacated factory, illuminated by the guttering flame of a candle, a teen-age couple were engaged in torrid, animal sex. The boy, a local tough named Duke that Willis remembered as being particularly antagonistic and the girl, who might have been any one of the legions of girls who wounded him with their eyes and whispered laughs.
The girl screamed her orgasm, her long sleek legs wrapped around the youth's taut
middle as he plunged away in wild abandon, finishing the mounting shrieks with his own brutish bellow of pleasure. The echoes of the debauch reverberated throughout the dark, empty building and made Willis shudder at the primordial essence that it generated. He was mortified that here and now, in his sanctuary, at the time he was prepared to take his own life, it was being desecrated by the same creatures that led him to the doorstep of suicide itself. He was enraged with the black anger of those who have nothing to lose. He was clenching his fists and ready to leap out when he heard the girl yelp out something.
"Duke, what's that?"
"What's what, baby?"
"No, look over there. What's that green light? You don't have one of your asshole friends over there with a video camera, do you?"
The one called Duke frowned and rose up onto his knees.
"No, babe, but it sounds like a good idea. Let's do it next time."
He got up, fastened his trousers and switched on a flashlight that had lain next to the candle.
Willis hid soundlessly, now more frightened at being found than angry. The beam flashed away from him and Willis watched as the young man vanished behind one of the massive ovens. All was silent for a brief moment and then the boy's voice rang out.
"Hey, Monica. Come over here and take a look at this. This is awesome."
"What is it, Duke? Let me get fixed up here first." The girl rebuttoned the short denim skirt, unable to find her lost panties and struggled with her glossy pumps.
"What have you found over there?" she walked unsteadily, a result of the uneven floor and the better part of a six-pack and joined the boy where he kneeled, transfixed by the shafts of green light that seeped out of the oven door grate.
"It's all gone," the boy murmured,"all the juices are gone and it's lonely." his voiced trailed off.
"Duke, what the hell are you talking about? Where's that light coming from?"
The boy continued his droning.
"The precious juices are life and he needs to live because there's sooo much juice for him here and blessed are those who are called to give up their juices for him... Ia... Ia, Shub... Niggurath... The three-lobed, burning eyeeee."
At that moment, the pores in boy's skin opened like a million tiny eyelids and blood and liquid sprayed forth to be sucked up through the vertical slots in the rusted door. The girl screamed but soon that died down too as she began the same droning, monotonous chant. Soon, both figures, their skin, parched, wrinkled wrappings that held now-clattering bones loosely held together in vague scarecrow shapes, sank to the cracked floor. The desiccation of the bodies was so complete that the leathery, withered tissue left behind crumbled into a fine powder that sifted through the still-articulated bones and joined the layered dust on the floor. The light now shone with a great intensity and Willis found that his fear had vanished to be replaced with a powerful curiosity.
Cautiously, he approached the light.

Calvin Beimler jockeyed his Schwinn through dinner-hour traffic and as he waited out a red light on an intersection, spied Willis Frohickey marching self-importantly down the opposite side of the street. Grinning, he stepped on the pedals, zipping across when the light changed and decided to shadow Willis.
Where could Willis be heading in such a hurry, Calvin thought. I heard that he'd been seen sneaking around the old Titan Foundry building. Maybe that's where he stashes all those shit comics he buys. Beimler smiled at the thought. He idled now, letting Willis stay an ample distance ahead, following carefully. After about fifteen minutes , the dark bulk of the foundry building loomed ahead, the late afternoon sun already beginning to dip behind the shadowy pillars of the smokestacks and peering redly through the sections of broken and streaked windows. Willis never slackened his pace and Calvin began to speed up, relishing the inevitable confrontation between them.
Willis trudged along the parched ground that led to rusty ladder bolted to the concrete wall hidden behind the building. Yard-high grass and masses of scrap metal heaped up against the wall had kept the ladder hidden throughout the summer months. On the other side of the lot, the dusty auto of Jess Solomon continued to bake in the waning afternoon sun, unseen by either Willis or Calvin..
Willis had neared the corner of the building when he heard a shout. His muscles froze and he cursed silently. He had been found out.
"Hey, Willis! Whatcha' up to around here? Going to a meeting?" Calvin chortled.
"Beimler!" Willis spat," What are you doing here? What do you want?" Willis felt cold and helpless. How could he get rid of this pest?
"What am I doing here? Following you, buckwheat. Hey, you know a way in here?
"Why are you following me?" Willis' voice was cold as well.
"Hey man, I'll tell you what. You show me how to get in there and I won't tell anyone that you've been here."
Willis frowned.
"Not a chance, Beimler. Get lost!"
Calvin sneered and lit a cigarette.
" I know a lot of people, Willis. This place could get as crowded as Deerfoot Mall on a Saturday afternoon. Guys and chicks making out, gamers, paint-ball wars, druggies, the works. If you wanna keep your little secret safe, ya gotta play along with me. Whatta you say, Willis? Are we pals?" Calvin's grin grew greasier as smoke coiled out of his flaring nostrils.
Willis realized that, once again, he was at the mercy of someone else. His refuge was in peril and his secret was... still there. Willis thought quickly, his brow furrowing; then he suddenly began to smile. Of course. The answer was so simple.
"All right, Calvin. We have to climb this ladder."
The two carefully clambered upward and stepped onto the gravel roof of the structure. They moved, Willis taking the lead, walking over loose cables and flaking pipes until they reached the air vent Willis had discovered all those months ago. They wormed their way into the battered opening and vanished into the darkness within.

Jess Solomon stared at the slotted grate on the massive oven-door, frowning with disbelief. He could clearly see a bright, sickish-green light pouring out from within the rusting hulk of the huge furnace but what was causing it? He leaned in closer, bringing his eyes near the grate and looked inside. At first, nothing but formless green light shone out but as his eyes adjusted to the brilliance, it seemed that there was. . .
"Thunk!"
The sound was muffled by distance and buried in the blackness of the previously silent tomb of the foundry but it was enough to rouse Solomon from his fascinated reverie.
He froze, his eyes swivelling to the darkness behind him. He turned quickly and furtively, now inexplicably nervous, and stared into the black hallway from which he had entered.
"Take it easy, pal. It's gotta be some neighbourhood kids messing with the door," he muttered to himself, unable to understand the cold feeling of dread that had begun to envelope him. He looked back to the oven door and was startled to see that the eerie green glow had vanished, replaced by an palpable blackness that seemed to ooze from between the teeth of the rusty iron grate.
Without understanding why, or perhaps responding to an ancient part of the brain that understood only too well, Solomon hid himself amidst the shadowy cover of thick, corroded pipes that lay apart from the ovens and the passage he had entered from.
Suddenly, a long shaft of light was thrown on the floor from the direction of the main hallway and distended, spindly shadows danced within.
The sounds of echoing footsteps began and grew closer, followed by ghostly voices.
Solomon cowered behind the bulk of a corroded pipe, unable to fathom the building fear that bubbled within him.
He peered out from his place of concealment.

"So this is where you hang out. Nice place, Willis. Lots of character."
Calvin looked around, the slight tremor in his voice betraying his false bravado.
"Oh, it's got that, all right. Nice and cool, quiet and solitary. A good place to get away from it all. See up there? That's the crucible where they used to pour the molten steel. And those over there? Giant furnaces for melting the raw ore. I read up on the place in the library. This oven here is the most interesting, though. Come on over and take a look."
Calvin didn't like the way Willis was getting more confident. He thought maybe he'd have to slap him around to make sure he remembered who was boss.
"So what's so special about this hunk of iron, Willis? The boogey man inside?" He was definitely getting uncomfortable in this dark musty tomb and he was beginning to regret going in with Willis. Maybe he should have beaten the snot out of the twerp and left it at that. His foot came down on something that cracked and he let out a yelp of surprise. He looked down into the dust and frowned at the mass of bones strewn there. Willis smiled patiently.
"You remember Duke Tongeren and that uppity girlfriend of his? Everyone thought they left town because she got pregnant. No, that's not how it happened, Calvin, ol' buddy. You just stepped on Duke's arm."
Calvin's eyes widened in disgust and he backed away from the grisly find. At that moment, the sickly green light began to flicker again and Calvin was immediately transfixed. He approached, falling to his knees in front of the grate and gaped in stunned horror at what stared back at him through the rusted bars. He screamed as his fluids were greedily sucked from every orifice in his body.
Willis, his arms crossed in front of him, laughed freely and heartily, the sounds rising and spreading throughout the dark, dead air of the ruin.

Jess Solomon gazed in mute horror at the spectacle. His hand pressed hard against his mouth, as if to keep a scream at bay. The boy kneeling in front of the oven shrieked and shrieked as something seemed to be draining out of his body, funnelling into the green glow now blazing out of the openings in the oven door. He gritted his teeth as the ordeal continued, as the boy's body began to shrivel and finally collapse in an untidy heap of powdery bones. The other youth, remained where he had been standing, his laughter trailing away as did the hideous screams. He then moved to the grate and knelt before it. Solomon strained his ears and heard the young man speak.
"Hear me Tsathoggua! I have brought you the life-fluids you crave and will bring more. Let me serve you as did your followers in eons past. Let me be your anointed one, your chosen one. I will prepare the way for you and your kin. The door shall be reopened and those who will not bow down to follow you shall be your food and drink. I swear that I will not fail you, my Master."
Solomon listened to the canticle and felt a chill pass through his soul. He wanted to get out of there, out of town, out of the damned state. Anything to get away from the lethal insanity he had just witnessed. He closed his eyes, his body trembling with fear and cold chills. He prayed that it was only a dream or an illusion but he knew, deep inside, that it was neither. He had seen what he had seen and there was no going back.
He silently cursed himself, his life before this moment nothing more than a series of dissatisfactions and disappointments, which, although sad, had been borne with stolid resignation. Now, he found himself desperately wishing, begging God that those were still his only concerns. Whatever had happened here, this afternoon could not go away or be erased. That pile of bones out there were mute testimony to that. He hid himself deeper within the comforting shadows and closed his eyes, waiting for the still mumbling youth to finally leave.

Willis concluded his prayer and sensed that the god in the machine was sated and satisfied. The green glow faded and vanished, silence filling the chamber.
He picked up his bag of comics and prepared to depart, sparing a glance at the new pile of bones that had been Calvin Beimler.
"Nice doing business with you, Calvin." he chortled as he left, whistling into the darkness.

Several hours passed.
Solomon moaned softly, adrift in a dream of sinking... sinking. He coughed suddenly and woke himself. For a brief moment he lay there, eyes blinking in the darkness, trying to work out where he was. When it came to him, he choked back a scream. When his eyes adjusted to the gloom he was soon able to discern shapes and details in the vast musty chamber. Moonlight filtered in through the lattice of windows smeared with an emulsion of soot and it was in this cold, eerie illumination he silently stole out, taking one last glance at the spectral chamber behind him.

He made his way out the still-open door of the foundry, locking the chain once more as a matter of habit and staggered to his car. It's familiar, reassuring shape gave him an immediate measure of relief. He started the motor, gunned it and with a jittery spray of gravel that plinked against the walls of the mute structure, the car sped away into the comforting yet apprehensive night.

Father Carpenter was a broken man. He sat on a worn bar stool that had been rejuvenated with a liberal patches of grey duct tape. He nursed a chipped glass of coarse bourbon and stared into the myriad legions of liquor bottles that lined the area where the bartender stood, filling endless glasses of beer. He sipped the acrid liquor and looked ruefully at the nearly empty bottle that stood at his elbow. He also glanced at the untanned band around his left hand ring finger and smiled sadly. The gold ecclesiastical college ring that his father had bought for him when he had graduated and had been worn through so many times of near disaster was now gone.
It now lay in the dusty glass case of a downtown pawn shop, exchanged for a pittance that was now represented by these last few ounces of whiskey. He stared at the hand that held the tumbler. Rough, scabbed, with chipped nails and fingers stained yellow-black with nicotine. The hand trembled slightly and the knobbed joints were speckled with age spots. He reached to his lips and after taking one last drag, took the stubby cigarette and mashed it out with the bent corpses of dozens more like it in an overflowing plastic ashtray. He coughed wetly and sloshed a portion of the precious booze from the glass and he cursed.
He had resigned from the holy orders almost five years ago but everyone who knew him still called him 'Father'. Some people even came to him for absolution and confession, which he performed even though he knew it was heresy to do so. The one or two drinks he was offered for the small chore was more than sufficient to dispel any moral objections he might have had.
Carpenter sighed and tossed back the dregs of his glass and poured the last of the sour booze into the glass. He stared at the drink, the last he was to have until he could dredge up the cash for one to replace it and contemplated the sight through the swirling smoke of another cigarette. When he did think about how he had gotten to this state, which was rare, he thought back to the days when he had served God through his work in the Church's Occult Investigations arm. He and his companions had travelled the world to search for artifacts of power and prepare for the day when that power would be needed to defend the Earth from the armies of Satan. When that day came, it exacted a terrible price. All of Carpenter's companions had been killed and although his actions had preserved the world, he had been broken by the experience. He drowned his memories in drink and withdrew into himself and was nearly grateful when the Archbishop gave him leave of absence. He knew he wouldn't be returning. He had no proof of what had happened in that cavern in Petra that fateful day when literally all Hell broke loose and he witnessed a level of damnation even Dante could not have envisioned. The fabled Sword of Archangel Michael had not been found and his entire expedition wiped out. The Church had to move some mountains before the story had been effectively rewritten and the whole ordeal put conveniently down to a tragic episode of terrorist action. With that, the church moved on, and Carpenter drifted away to immerse his guilt and anger in strong drink, hoping (but not praying) for the merciful blanket of oblivion that was now getting more and more difficult to afford as his personal fortunes dwindled.
He had sold the car, the house and most of his personal belongings, taking up residence in a seedy but cheap apartment and had been able to drown his misery in a regular supply of middling quality liquor. But, as is often the case, his resources began to dry up and he was reduced to selling off his remaining religious artifacts and even his old briefcase that had carried so much of his life and career. He sighed and looked ruefully at the half empty glass that would be his last one of the night... or maybe the week.
He gulped it and it was gone, burning a last trail of sour fire down his weathered throat.
"Yeah, it just doesn't get any better than this" He mused as he already began to concern himself about the source of tomorrow's booze.

Jess Solomon entered the bar, looking about him warily as though he might be guilty of something. He spotted an empty stool and claimed it, hunching over the stained counter as though to keep his distance from would-be pals and companions.
The bartender appeared before him and waited for an order.
"Gimmee a double scotch and water. Oh, a burger and fries if you got food going here."
"You got it. The burger'll take about five."
"Great. Thanks." Solomon relaxed a little a he lifted the glass to his lips and sucked back some of the restorative drink. God, what a day, he thought. Would he ever get those images out of his head? Or worse, those sounds? He was suddenly aware of a presence near him. Or more specifically, an odor.
"Say pal. You shouldn't water your whiskey down like that. It ruins the flavour". The old man smiled in a innocently-friendly manner, but he was eyeing Solomon's drink with the intensity of the truly desperate.
"Hey, I like it this way. Wanna give me some elbow room, mack?" Solomon chastened the old man but without any real tooth. He wasn't in any form for a fight now. All he wanted was another drink like this one and... yes, he had to admit it. He was actually hungry. Despite what he had witnessed that day, he began to salivate at the thought of the impending hamburger. He smiled a little at the thought and turned to the old man.
"So what's your pleasure, fella? Say, barkeep? Give this man a slug of whatever he's having. It's on me."
"The name's Carpenter... "
The old man looked almost ready to burst into tears at the gesture.
He took in the old man's appearance; worn clothing, probably Salvation Army issue; fingers nearly black from nicotine stains; walrus-moustache, grey with yellowed ends. The red, pouchy eyes of a drunk who has still managed to hold on and keep his head above the brim of the glass- but was losing his grip. He looked like that actor he saw in the movie about the folks in the seniors home and the aliens that had that youth-restoring pool. Cocoon was the name of the film but what was the man's name? Brinkley? Brimley, that's it; Wilford Brimley. That was the actor. But this version of him looked like he'd done some hard time in a rehab centre instead of the backstroke in a friendly alien's swimming pool.
"Here y' go, Father. Make it last." The bartender admonished.
"Thanks a lot, Mister. Thanks an awful lot," he showed great restraint as he sipped the amber liquid, resisting the primal urge to gulp it down in one searing swallow. "Mmmm... that's good stuff. Not what I used to be able to afford once, long ago. But very welcome, indeed."
"Father? Hey, are you a priest?" Solomon received his steaming plate of hamburger, fries, gravy and unidentifiable sprig of green weed with relief and gusto. His mood was already lifting in the presence of drink, hot food and modestly-acceptable company.
"Yes... a while ago. I guess I lost the calling." The old man said softly, not expecting the question but always being asked.
"So what calls you now, Carpenter?" Solomon said through a mouthful of meat, bread, onion loops and dripping condiments.
Carpenter said nothing for a moment. Then, he raised the glass and glanced meaningfully at it and at Solomon. He lowered his eyes to avoid Solomon's stare.
"That's too bad, fella," Solomon, now revived with food and drink under his belt, felt he could afford to show a little sympathy to this down-and-outer. After all, this guy's problems couldn't beat what he had just escaped from today.
"Hey, a lot of things can drive a man to drink. Everybody's got something to escape from. The job, a nagging wife and everything in between. What hit you so hard that you had to hit the bottle?" Solomon was actually interested in whatever the old priest was about to say. It made this afternoon's events seem dimmer and by the late dark hours of the night, he'd definitely need those memories dimmed.
Carpenter looked into Solomon's eyes and Solomon flinched a little. Those eyes had looked upon harder things than the floor of a drunk tank or a festering alley.
"Mister -"
"Solomon. Call me Jess."
"Thanks, Jess." Carpenter continued to ration his drink," What if you did something that was for the benefit of everyone, but no one knew what you did or that you had done it. What if, through no fault of your own, you were made into a scapegoat and were made to take blame that would end your career and drive you to begging drinks from total strangers every night in a filthy, flyblown bar like this one." Carpenter's voice had lowered to a rasping whisper, as his eyes reddened and watered. He threw caution to the wind and downed the last of his drink. Solomon looked at Carpenter with a mixture of pity and disgust. Pity at what the ex-priest had become and disgust at what Solomon saw as his own possible future.
"Take it easy, fella. Barkeep, give him another." Solomon tried to soothe.
He saw the poisoned look of furious shame and almost lickerish greed on Carpenter's face as the drink was poured for him and Solomon finally had a glimpse of the despair and self-loathing that seethed in the old priest's conscience.
"C'mon. Tell me about it. I got plenty of time." Solomon shuddered at the thought of trying to go to sleep tonight after what he had seen that afternoon. The old man's tale would at least distract him from brooding over it further. He was well prepared to keep the priest in drink for as long as it took to hear out his story.
"That's what I thought too. All the time in the world. You know you really believe that when you're young. You never think that you're ever going to grow old and decrepit. No wonder we used to laugh at old folks back then. They seemed like another species altogether. Frail, watchful. Scared of us and jealous at the same time. I was a graduate of St. Michael's Seminary and Episcopal College back in 1949. Being a priest meant a lot more back then than it does now, let me tell you. There was respect for a man of the cloth. Now, a priest is almost automatically suspected of sodomy if he's near a child. But I didn't know about any of that back then. I was a fighting young priest and I was going to change the world. If I had known what was up ahead I'd have been happier ringing a bell for the Salvation Army." Carpenter took a long but controlled sip of his drink, now in better control of himself.
"My fate was sealed on the day Bishop Ewing called me into his office to discuss a church matter that was, shall I say, out of the ordinary. He had seen my grades and read my theses concerning the church and its official stand on paranormal matters. The Bishop's offer floored me, to say the least."
"Go on," Solomon encouraged, his curiosity getting the better of him.
Carpenter drained his glass and, unable to help himself, directed a look of piteous avarice towards Solomon. Solomon nodded with a sad smile and directed the bartender to keep Carpenter's tumbler filled. The look of shameless gratitude was almost more than he could bear and he turned away as Carpenter sucked on the lip of the glass like an ardent lover.
"So, what did the Bishop offer you?" Solomon gently prodded.
"The Bishop? Yes, the ever lovin' Bishop. Here's to you, Bishop Ewing, wherever you are; I hope you're having as much fun as I am." and Carpenter raised the glass in a wobbly salute before drinking deeply again. "The Bishop. He wanted me to transfer to the Secular-Occult Investigations Order."
"The what?" Solomon frowned.
"That's what I said, too. It's an arm of the Catholic Church that deals with paranormal and metaphysical phenomenon. At least, that's how the Bishop put it."
"I saw some movies that had something like that in them. "The Exorcist" and..." Solomon thought for a moment." Oh yeah, "Prince of Darkness".
Carpenter groaned.
"They stink. The Max Von Sydow character was supposed to be me. At least he had some dignity; until Linda Blair threw up all over him. But Donald Pleasence was pathetic. Made me look like an ineffectual loser."
Solomon stared.
"Are you saying those movies were based on real events?"
"Sure. Badly written and poorly acted. Exorcisms take place on a regular basis and some of them are a lot more terrifying than that schlockey movie. As for "Prince of Darkness", I was an unwilling advisor to the whole stupid mess and told the director so. His name was Carpenter, too. Or was it Romero? Anyway, I think that's why he made my character look like such a schmuck in the end. The real event wasn't too different from the movie, I'll have to give them that." Carpenter swirled his tumbler, lost in thought as Solomon tried to take in what he had just heard.
"But the events were true. Some of the other situations were a lot more serious, though and we had to keep a tight lid on those; the Christ-clone incident; the Iron-Bishop of Carpathian-Moldavia; the Hob's Lane dwarf... all suppressed and probably just as well. Who would believe it, much less learn from it? Even I believe that some of these matters should be suppressed for the good, or at least the mental comfort of the public. There are things out there... forces at work even now, that wish us nothing but harm. We have measures that work against them but it's a dicey job and one that exacts a heavy cost at times." Carpenter sighed again and drained his glass. He fumbled for a cigarette and Solomon snapped open a worn and scratched Zippo to light it.
"Thanks."
"I eventually ran the field operations section and had a good stretch of success until my last mission. It was the Big One. If it had failed you and I wouldn't be having this conversation. Or if we did, it would be a whole lot hotter around here." Carpenter allowed himself a small grin and a whispery chuckle at this remark."The mission was a success but my team had been wiped out. The artifact we had died to recover vanished and I got fired. Or, at least, that's what it amounted to. Now I keep this seat warm and absorb alcohol."
Carpenter stared away, awash in a rancid sea of remembrance and cigarette smoke, actually managing to forget the fresh drink standing sentinel at his elbow.
Solomon looked at Carpenter with an expression of disbelief. Not disbelief of what he had been told, but disbelief that he could be presented with the one man who might have an answer.
By a thousand-to-one chance and the price of a few drinks he had stumbled upon the one person who might be equipped to believe what he had experienced that afternoon.
"Carpenter... I got something to tell you. I saw something today... something I can hardly believe."
Carpenter turned and focused his red eyes on Solomon's earnest but now-haggard face.
"Go ahead. It's time for me to start earning my booze." He said with a wintry smile.
Solomon proceeded to relate his tale, starting with his arrival at the Titan Foundry and ending with his flight from the moon-haunted structure only a few hours ago.
Carpenter sat and frowned. He drummed his fingers lightly on the counter-top and absent-mindedly began to finger the pale band of skin where his now-pawned ring had been .
"If you're making this up, I suppose I deserve it. It's the least I can do for a generous fella like yourself."
Solomon nearly grabbed Carpenter by the shirt-collar.
"This is the truth, damn you. Are you saying you don't believe me?"
"I suppose I do believe you. But what of it? I suggest you stay out of the building. That would be the wisest course." Carpenter made moves as though to leave.
"What do you mean, stay out? That kid is sacrificing people to that - thing in the oven! We have to do something."
Carpenter frowned again, and Solomon saw that the man was nowhere near drunk.
"Bad stuff happens to good people all the time, Jess. It's a law of nature. I know, cause I fought it all the way to this barstool. Thanks for the drinks. I hope my tales earned them fairly." And with that, Carpenter crossed the floor and passed through the door without looking behind him.
Solomon stared after him, without a clue as to what to do next.
He finished his own drink and got up, tossing a few folded bills in the direction of the bartender. He used the washroom and then made his way to the motel he booked for the night.
Carpenter slogged along the darkened street, sucking absent mindedly on his last cigarette, cursing himself.
"Why now?" he muttered between plumes of white smoke,"Why now, when I'm a broken-down relic, begging for cheap-crap liquor at the end of his rope? God DAMN IT ALL!!" He tried to walk as fast as his anger would propel him but his age and his own poor condition and self-destructive habits soon slowed him down to a puffing, sweating, shuffle. Lining that street were low-rent apartments and closed-down shops. Carpenter found a set of cracked stone steps leading to the doorway of one such apartment block and gratefully sat down to recover his breath. His breathing gradually slowed and the rasp of exhaustion faded. He rested, trying to collect his wits and make some sense out of the night's strange turn of events. He grimaced when he thought about Solomon's story. Not out of disbelief, but out of exasperation. He was through with chasing demons and searching through hell-holes looking for religious artifacts and worm-eaten fragments of parchment. All he wanted was a life. It didn't have to be a great life; just one without the weight of vast responsibility and duty to the higher cause, always the higher cause. What did God want with him? He had done his duty, said his prayers by night and celebrated the joyous ritual of Holy Mass every day, day after day, each time feeling as glad and proud as he did on the very first Mass he had participated in. In return, God had given him a task so great that, in achieving it, he had lost everything and everyone dear to him. What manner of test was this? What Great Sin had he perpetrated to have earned the punishment that he had endured the long years since that fateful quest for the Sword of Archangel Michael? And now, to suddenly be called into service with no resources, no stamina and worst of all; no faith. He sat with his head in his hands, tears finally smarting in his eyes. He had not known such misery could live in a man's heart.
Down the street, a small knot of roughs swaggered towards the stairway that partially concealed Carpenter. They laughed drunkenly, and bragged at each other in the way only nocturnal losers can and stopped when they came upon Carpenter.
"Hey, man? You dead?" One of them poked Carpenter with a grimy finger.
"Hey, man. You got some smokes? I'm all out man." Another snorted and spat at Carpenter's feet.
"I'm not dead and I don't smoke. Now leave me in peace." Carpenter looked up, rasping an answer. One of the toughs reached in and snatched at Carpenter's sleeve, pulling his hand into the light. His own nicotine-stained fingers were plain to see, even in the low glare of the streetlight.
"Hah! Don't smoke, hah? You got the tattoo, Pops. Now give, or we take. I haven't busted up a old-bum in a long time." Carpenter stood on the steps, almost glad for the confrontation. Now he wouldn't need to make a decision about all of this demon-hunting and world-saving. It was all out of his hands, now. His stabbed and beaten body would be found the next morning and he'd never need another drink again. With that in mind, he grew fearless.
"The day I hand over my smokes to a gang of piss-ant momma's boys is the day I push a peanut down Main street with my nose."
The leader, a pimply thug with broad shoulders and broad belly to match it blinked stupidly at the remark. His henchmen, who seemed quicker on the uptake, groped in their pockets and withdrew short lengths of heavy chain.
"You're in trouble now, Gramps!" the leader barked as his threadbare dogs of war circled, assuming poses that were meant to be intimidating. At that moment, a wind picked up and blew past the tableaux, dust whipping at the boys faces and tearing at their clothes. They coughed and clawed at their eyes as the dust whirled around them in increasing gusts. Carpenter looked astonished, realizing that the wind was barely touching him. It was as though a miniature tornado fell upon the gang of boys and wanted only their company.
They coughed and choked and finally one by one they broke away from the circle of tumult and ran down the street blindly, leaving a trail of chains and the occasional knife.
The whirlwind, lessening but not dissipating held its position in front of Carpenter. It approached but he held his ground and was enveloped, gently this time, and not assaulted by dust. The whirling air caressed him and he suddenly felt a presence there with him. He gasped as something passed through him and at that instant, his mind was cleared and his faith restored. He relaxed and allowed the moment to linger. He whispered one word.
"Matthew..."

Lying on the bed, watching late-night television consisting of lengthy info-mercials, ads for 1-900 phone-sex and sitcom reruns sprinkled with a dusting of bad reception, Solomon wished he had bought a bottle to bring back to his room; his flask was long since drained. He was afraid to go to sleep knowing that the thing in the oven was still there and maybe knew he was there too. Who was the kid and how did he get involved with the thing; moreover, just what kind of ghastly deal had been made between the two? A good-sized part of him wanted to just get out as fast as possible and to hell with whatever was going on in that abandoned factory. But another part wondered how many more would be sacrificed by the boy? Did the thing in there see him leave? Did it know who he was? And the building was still intended for the wrecker's ball. What might happen if the building were destroyed? What might be lurking there when a new one was erected? All of these questions lay heavily on Solomon's mind as he tried to find something to distract him.
He drifted in and out of troubled sleep when he was startled awake by the bedside telephone. He stared at it as thought it were a venomous reptile. Who knew he was here? His boss sure wouldn't be calling at this time. Could it be the kid? He reached for the handset, unable to ignore the lifelong ingrained reaction to a telephone's ringing.
"Hello?" he said in a tremulous voice.
"Solomon? It's Carpenter. Get dressed. I'm at the front desk and I've got a cab waiting outside."
Solomon sat on the bed, blinking and running his hand through his thinning hair.
"I'm on my way." he replied and hung up the receiver. He yawned and then proceeded to dress as though for any normal day on the job. He washed his face, slipped on his jacket and closed the door behind him
Solomon walked the short distance from his door to the downstairs office of the motel. The glaring fluorescent sign above the door held court over a swirling cloud of winged insects and he saw Carpenter standing by the idling taxi.
"C'mon, Solomon. Let's get going. I seriously doubt my courage is going to last any longer than yours. Let's see what we can do about this before we both run away screaming."
"Carpenter, what's all this about. I thought you were out of this line of work. What do you think you can do about this?"
Carpenter smiled thinly.
"Just show me where the foundry is. Then you can take off."
"The cabby will know that." Solomon tried to haggle.
"He won't have a key to get into the place like you have. Now c'mon. I want a look at this thing before we can plan any further."
"Then why not use my car? Why pay a taxi?"
"Is that your car over there?" Carpenter asked mildly. Solomon turned to look.
"Yeah, the green Pontiac - what the Hell?" Solomon's voice cracked.
The car he had parked so carefully in the corner of the lot to protect it from view from the street now sat on four grey cement blocks, minus its wheels. The trunk and hood both gaped open, suggesting missing components and the side windows smashed.
"That was a company car... " Solomon gasped as he took in the horror of the stripped auto."I'm in deep shit, now." he murmured.
"Solomon, I sympathize. But there’s not much time and I need your help. Now please, get in the cab."
Solomon entered the cab without any further words and the vehicle drove off amidst a cloud of oily, blue exhaust.
Inside the cab both men were silent. Solomon was still clearing his head from sleep and trying to assemble a story his boss would believe or at least not fire him over. Who would have known, he thought, that a day after he was bitching to himself about being passed over for promotion he would now be ready to beg to keep what he had. He closed his eyes and felt like crying.
Carpenter pulled a small, blunt pistol out of his coat pocket and proceeded to open the weapon and clean it. He broke the gun down to smaller units and laid the pieces upon a square of oiled leather in his lap. He cleaned each component with oil and reassembled the firearm expertly. His last step was to fit four heavy calibre bullets into the breech of the gun before snapping it closed with a solid, heavy click. He noticed Solomon looking on apprehensively.
"I didn't sell off everything I owned. Some things are just too sentimental to give up." He said with a sad smile, pocketing the weapon.
The hulk of the foundry loomed up ahead of them and the gibbous globe of the moon was nearly set when the taxi pulled into the dusty driveway of the complex.
"Pay the man," Carpenter suggested to Solomon as the cabby turned to face them in the back seat.
"Cabby, I want you back here in exactly half and hour. You got it? Jess, give the man something to show we're in earnest." Solomon shrugged and tossed another twenty dollar bill at the man. The cabby snatched it out of the air like a trained dolphin at Seaworld and smiled.
"You got a deal, gentlemen. Half an hour. Be here or be queer." He chortled to himself.
The two men got out of the taxi and walked towards the brooding silhouette of the building. The car swung around and vanished into the night. Solomon reached with cold fingers for the bunch of keys still clipped to his belt. Carpenter held a small flashlight with unsteady hands as the key was sought after and when it was found, the two men looked each other in the eye.
"You can come with me or wait for the cab out here. You've lived up to your end of the deal. You don't have to come any further."
"I know, but... I need to know what's going on, too. God help me, but I'm as curious as I am scared."
"Me, too. Always have been. My curiosity just gets the better of my fear."
With that, Solomon unlocked the door and opened it with a loud scraping noise. There was no way it couldn't be heard if someone was within. Carpenter swallowed and led the way in, his flashlight beam sliding over the thickly layered dust of the floor. He smiled just a little at the thought that this was the most truly alive he had felt for years.
He gripped the handle of the trusty derringer that he had relied on for so many years and thought about where he had gotten it. It was Mathew. Matthew O'Brien, his driver, bodyguard and friend who had given him the weapon for Christmas, of all things, over ten years ago. Matthew, who had been killed on his last mission along with all the others. Now, all that was left to remember them by was this blunt, ugly pistol.
"Nice place. So this is what you do? You check out abandoned buildings and put your seal of approval on them for demolition? The Demolition Man." Carpenter whispered.
"The job stinks. What happened here today just proved it to me. I gotta find a new line of work." Solomon hissed back.
"Well, if this little expedition goes all right, I could use a partner," Carpenter grinned.
"If this expedition goes all right, I'm going to need a shrink." Solomon nearly grinned himself. They passed through the outer chambers with their unidentifiable machinery and peeling walls and soon they were confronted by the entrance to the vast interior, shrouded with gloom and filled with the peculiar but unmistakable odor of urban decay.
Solomon stiffened suddenly.
"This is it. This is the place." His whisper carried the stutter of panic and Carpenter had to calm him.
"Ok, pal. You've gone far enough. Just point out the oven in question and I'll take a quick look and then we're out of here."
"What do you think you'll find out with a quick look?" Solomon almost laughed out loud.
"Maybe I know what to look for. I used to make a living doing this," Carpenter began to slip into the shadow wreathed, moonlight streaked industrial cavern."You just stay put and if anything happens... you won't need me to tell you."
Solomon winced at the possibility and was almost angered at the thought that Carpenter was almost certainly smiling when he said it.
What happened next was a surprise even to Carpenter.

"Welcome to the all-night diner of the gods, gentlemen." A hoarse voice spoke, not loud but of such a low timbre that it carried far and was felt in the bones despite its soft delivery. Suddenly, light glowed everywhere, not from fixtures or the smeared windows but from the floor, the walls, the corroded machinery. It was as though all the surfaces of the room's massive interior had been coated with an exceptionally radiant brand of luminous paint.
Carpenter stood many yards into the room and was motionless as the light increased in intensity. Near the ceiling of the great chamber, suspended in mid-air, a vast globe manifested itself, winking open like some titan eyeball. Greenish-yellow light poured forth from its ghostly orb and shone back and forth like the beam of some colossal searchlight. Solomon didn't like the comparison to a searchlight; it implied that something was being searched for.
"Don't be shy, boys. I knew that someone might be curious about this place." the voice ground on.
Solomon was suddenly reminded of a game his little sister once had. He couldn't remember what it was called but it consisted of a cardboard haunted house and a bunch of little plastic ghosts that glowed in the dark. The game was meant to be played in the dark and you moved the little ghosts around a gameboard or the haunted house, Solomon couldn't remember which. He did recall with guilty pleasure how he would scare his little sister by putting all the little ghosts in his mouth and entering her bedroom in the dark while she was asleep. He'd nudge her awake and then open his mouth to reveal the glowing mass within. To her sleepy eyes it was like a great glowing eye opening in the dark and she would scream in justified terror at the apparition. He got into a lot of trouble for that stunt but he did it several times over the course of years and it always had the same effect. Now he had a very clear idea how it felt to be on the receiving end of that trick only this time it wouldn't end with a hearty laugh, the lights turned on and a modest scolding from mom. Solomon froze, fear rooting him to the concrete as sure as iron fetters. Carpenter didn't seem to fare any better as he stood rigid, fixed in his spot like Solomon.
"I don't know who you are but you've arrived right on time for the 4:00 a.m. feeding. You've relieved me of the necessity of ordering in." The laughter that sounded after this statement made Solomon think of the sound his father made when he coughed out his cancer-riddled lungs. The eye opened further and its beam fell on Solomon.
"Oh, Christ-Jesus, help me..." he whispered, nearly sobbing in fear.
"That one has no business here... don't insult your host by invoking pagan deities. Tsathoggua, the Immortal Leech may allow you to join us in our quest for the Juices, the sweet juices that make us live and breathe and spawn. I once craved the solitude of this Holy Shrine but I was given inspiration by one who freely gave his juices to my Master. Let them come, he said. Let them all come and give of themselves, that they may be among the blessed. Blessed are those who are called to his supper and blessed is the fruit of his womb..." The coarse, phlegmy laughter barked forth again and the beam of sickly light swivelled away from the quivering Solomon to fix upon Carpenter.
But Carpenter was not there.
For a moment the beam of rancid light wavered, then began to search. Unlike a beam of normal light, this one seemed to creep over and around and behind objects like pillars and the massive rectangles of rusted iron like a questing octopus.
Solomon did have the presence of mind to slip out the doorway when the light no longer rested on him. He ducked behind a bank of dented filing cabinets and hoped the probing beam couldn't reach this far. He closed his eyes and desperately wished he was in a plain, dully decorated motel room again, watching an intriguing and entertaining info-mercial on a delightfully staticky television.
Carpenter breathed a little easier when he saw that Solomon had taken advantage of the diversion to escape. He hoped he made it out of the building. In the mean time, he had to find a way out of here and figure out just what he was dealing with. Or who was dealing with him. That thought didn't improve his outlook.
"Where are you, little men... Don't be shy. My master would like to... converse with you."
Carpenter smiled a little. Whoever this guy was, he sounded like he was being scripted by a comic-book writer, he thought wryly.
"A bad comic-book writer." he whispered. He froze then, seeing the ominous ellipse of green light sliding close to him. He frowned and reached into his jacket pocket, drawing out a small silver cylinder. He held it in both hands, in the manner of a water-skier’s towrope handle, and twisted it hard just as the deadly circle approached over a hump of rusty pipe. A translucent, white mist gushed out of the cylinder, fully enveloping Carpenter in its billowing clouds, just as the sinister circle of light struck. It wavered for a brief moment, sliding over and around the amorphous vapour, then slid away to continue its search. Within the protective cocoon of opaque gas, Carpenter breathed a genuine sigh of relief.
"I'm glad I didn't pawn you, sweetheart." he kissed the now empty cylinder.
At least he had bought a little more time. But what to do with that time?
"Why do you hide so? There is no escape from Tsathoggua. Of all the places on this wormy, crumb of rock and dirt, Mighty Tsathoggua has chosen this place, holiest of all holies, to reign supreme over all flesh and bone and skin. Welcome the embrace as I have. Soon, all will belong to Tsathoggua and all will be as it should be, as it was in the beginning now and forever, Amen." The voice droned and seemed to be babbling. The eyeball entity began to fade also.
"That's both good and bad," Carpenter spoke softly to himself," Good that its getting tired; bad that it's probably getting hungry." He shifted his position, watching the glowing entity fade, growing dimmer and dimmer with each passing second. Carpenter looked out feverishly. Whoever was speaking surely wasn't going to vanish as easily. If there were answers to be found here, then Tsathoggua's altar-boy would have them. The darkness began to descend and the luminous quality of the surfaces around him began to fade with the waning apparition. Carpenter dug one more time into his jacket and pulled out what looked like a small telescope with a boxlike unit built into its middle. He snapped a switch and looked through the optical device, scanning the already shadow-filled recesses of the cavernous void.
"Where are you, sonny-boy? I need to have a serious talk with you." he whispered as he swept the dusky interior with the device."This damn army surplus infra-red scope better come through or - aha! There you are, my traitorous little lad. Let me get a fix on you." Through the scope, Carpenter could see the bright, man-shaped blob slowly climbing up a tall ladder that was fixed into the far wall of the Oven-chamber. He sprang from where he was crouching and quietly trod to the base of the ladder. He shook his head and took a deep breath as he tested his grip on the ladder's rusted rungs.
"Carpenter! What the hell are you doing?" whispered an incredulous voice from behind him.
"What? Solomon? What are you still doing here?" Carpenter couldn't help but feel a measure of relief at Solomon's unexpected appearance.
"Give me a little credit for loyalty, Carpenter. What are you doing?"
"No time for talking now, Solomon. Our answers may come if we can catch the fellow whose escaping above us. I hate to ask, but you're about twenty years younger than I am, and much more likely to reach the top of this ladder." Solomon grinned a little at the older man's peevish request but stopped abruptly when Carpenter thrust the derringer into his reluctant hand.
"Go! Get moving. He wasn't climbing that quickly, but we can't afford to lose him."
"I agree, but climbing blindly up this ladder isn't the way to get him."
Carpenter frowned and sounded almost truculent.
"Solomon, are you trying to tell me my job?" He snapped.
"Nope, but remember, I'm familiar with this building. I studied plans of this place before I was sent here to confirm its status as condemned. So I know that this ladder will lead our man onto the secondary roof, which will lead to the ground level warehouse roof which is just around from where we entered the building."
Carpenter looked at Solomon silently for a moment and then grinned sheepishly.
"Lay on, MacDuff." he urged.
"I think that's supposed to be,'Lead on."
The two men quickly made for the doorway.

They arrived outside just as the lights of the cab came into view.
"Jess! Give me my gun. You flash whatever greenbacks it takes to keep that cabby here. I'm going after our man." Solomon frowned but tossed the derringer to Carpenter and then turned to face the oncoming taxi. Carpenter snatched it out of the air and vanished behind the grass-choked side of the complex.
Carpenter moved stealthily, stopping to listen every few seconds. Sure enough, what Solomon had said about the layout of the place rang the cherries. He could hear rough scrabbling coming from above, where the bent, rusted roof sheeting started, ten feet overhead. Carpenter leaned against the wall, his hand dry on the rubber grip of the pistol. Soon, flakes of rust began to drop and a pair of lanky, jean-clad legs lowered slowly and painfully. A cracking sound rent the cold, pre-dawn air, followed by a coughing yelp and a body crashed down onto the discarded planks and rusty lengths of scaffold piping. Carpenter watched with caution for a few seconds but, when it was obvious that the figure was totally unconscious, he relaxed and slid the still-unused pistol back into its pocket. He bent over and grasped the thin ankles of the comatose figure and proceeded to drag the supine body back to the waiting taxi.

An hour later, three men occupied a dingy, colourless room in a sagging apartment block on a street so dismal and grey that the saffron-yellow brushstrokes of the dawn sun seemed to run off the pavement and siphon down leaf-clogged drains.
The boy, as he turned out to be, was sitting upright in a hard, wooden kitchen chair, handcuffs and leg-irons bonding him securely.
The chair was in the middle of a kitchen floor, linoleum cracked with curled corners and loose tiles lying roughly where they had separated. Flattened cigarette butts competed with mashed cockroach husks for numerical supremacy over this yellowing field of honour.
"Carpenter, are you sure it's necessary to chain this kid up like this? He doesn't look fit to stay awake, much less harm us or anyone."
Carpenter sighed.
"Did I say I was looking for a partner? Forget I said anything. You seem to think we're only dealing with a kid. After what you've seen, I'm amazed and a little disappointed to see how naive you still are." He slapped the boy's face a few times to rouse him," Isn't that right, lad? We know better, though, don't we? Oh you're in league with a sly one. I suppose he promised all the usual stuff. Eternal youth, mastery over all who made your life hell, all the girls you could bed and a quarry full of loot to top it off."
The boy opened his eyes suddenly and his mouth gaped, leaking saliva and foam.
"I'll feast on your roasted carcass, old man!" the boy spat.
"Is that the best you can do? That crappy monster-movie guy, Romero, could come up with better dialogue than that." Carpenter smiled congenially." See, Jess? These lesser servants of the Bad Boys always get the second-rate dialogue."
The boy screamed in rage, his scrawny arms straining against the handcuffs until blood welled up around the biting edges of the metal. Cords popped out in high relief on the boy's neck and his face was transfigured by animal rage.
"I AM NO LESSER SERVANT!!! I AM HIS HIGH PRIEST!!! YOU ARE ALL DOOMED FOR LAYING UNCLEAN HANDS UPON THE CHOSEN ONE OF TSATHOGGUA! YOU WILL ALL DIE, DIE, DIE! ALL WILL GIVE UP THEIR JUICES FOR -" The boy stiffened suddenly as Carpenter pushed home the plunger of a hypodermic needle deeply embedded in the trapezius muscle of his shoulder. Very quickly, the boy relaxed, his gravely shouts reduced to a mere incoherent whisper. The burly ex-priest carefully extracted the needle and replaced it in a black, red-velvet lined box.
"What did you give him?" Solomon looked concerned.
"Scopolamine. It'll keep him quiet but responsive to questions. We can't have raving lunatics bellowing and disrupting the place.We have to show some consideration for the neighbours." Solomon nearly laughed out loud.
"By the way," he said, eyeing the surroundings," nice place you have here."
"Really? Want to move in? I have an extra room."
"Not a chance," Solomon snorted, not too unkindly.
"The drug should have taken effect by now. Let's see what this fellow has to tell us." Carpenter moved his chair closer to the drooling, nearly unconscious youth.
"Boy, tell me your name. Your name. Tell me."
"......." the boy burbled something inaudible.
"Say it louder, boy. Tell me your name. Louder."
"Willis.... Willis Frohickey.... " the boy stammered louder. His eyes were closed and a continuous stream of saliva oozed from the boy's drooping lower lip.
"Ok, Willis. We're your friends here. Me and Jess are your buddies and we want to help you. You want help, don't you?"
"Help me... help. So tired...nearly used up..." The boy breathed deeply but seemed unable to take in enough air.
"Willis, this is very important. What is Tsathoggua? Why are you doing its bidding? Why is it here?" Carpenter didn't want to tax the weakening lad with too many questions, but there were so many that needed answers.
"Tsathoggua... the crawling chaos... I'm... high priest... he's found a door... and wants to come in." Willis moaned in a piteous voice, a voice that knew it was damned.
"He needs the juices to... make the door bigger. He thirsts for the precious juices." Willis' head lolled and his words became more incoherent as he drifted into oblivion.
"Juices? What's he talking about?" Solomon looked puzzled.
"Bodily fluids; blood, lymph, semen, mucous... everything. The life essence, basically. It's not uncommon. Frankly, I'm surprised it's needs are that simple." Carpenter wrapped a blanket around the snoring boy as he pondered." There are all sorts of entities that drain human life fluids. That's where the whole vampire mythos came from. What we have to do now is find a way to stop up that doorway Willis was so kind to tell us about."
Solomon looked alarmed.
"You saw what we're dealing with. What do you think you're going to do to stop it?"
Both men were suddenly distracted by the liquid sound of gurgling coming from the unconscious boy.
"Heeellllppppp meeeeeee........." The unearthly voice bubbled. It sounded like it was coming up from the depths of a barrel of viscous oil. Then, a nauseous stench burst within the room and the boy began to melt, purulent black fluid streaming from every orifice to form a loathsome spreading puddle of detestable putrescence on the floor. Solomon staggered, aghast at the sight and stench and choked out up a steaming volume of bilious vomit.
Carpenter stared with grim, slitted eyes at the grotesque spectacle, his teeth gritted in revulsion.
"Well, Jess, my lad.. looks like you just passed the initiation. Welcome to the club."
Solomon looked at him wordlessly, wiping his mouth with his crumpled, sweat-stained handkerchief and felt he knew what Roy Scheider's character, Chief Brody must have felt when that big shark popped up to say hi and thanks for all the fish in that movie, Jaws.
"We're definitely going to need a bigger boat." he whispered to himself as Carpenter handed him a glass of water.
"Get used to it." He shook his head wearily.
"C'mon. We have to go."

They travelled under a strangely tumultuous sky, filled with massive grey cloudbanks, frosted with warm, silver light from the still-rising sun. Patches of brilliant blue punctuated the extraordinary cloud pattern and sporadic outbursts of light rain fought with shafts of lambent light as the sun fenced with the cloud masses and occasionally ran them through. They rode another taxi to a different corner of town, pulling up in front of a large, ill-cared for, shabby-looking mansion. It may have once been a magnificent dwelling, tastefully appointed and well manicured in its heyday, but now it sagged, festooned with malignant ivy, it's walls stained and discoloured with decades of neglect and wild vegetation ran rampant throughout its once immaculate gardens.
"This is the place. Hasn't changed a bit. C'mon, Jess. Pay the man. We haven't got all day." Carpenter got out and pushed open the gate, which reluctantly obeyed, faulty latch and rusty hinges doing their best to hinder entry.
"Who are we here to see?" Solomon caught up with Carpenter after frowning ruefully into his depleted wallet.
"Doctor Julia D'Archangelo. I consulted her in a case many years ago. She's been quite a trove of useful information; If you can catch her in a good mood, that is."
Solomon looked around in quizzical disgust. The grass grew tall and wild, and was hopping with bugs. Dandelions grew rank and thistles lined the flaking, decomposing planks that passed for a fence. They mounted the bent, crumbling stairs that led to the front door and Carpenter knocked loudly. There was no response after a minute's wait and Carpenter knocked again.
"Maybe you should have called first. Are you sure that she still lives here?"
"I'm sure, Jess. Julia is a little hard to distract if she's in the middle of something. Let me try again." He banged harder this time, with no result.
"Great. So now what? I'm running out of cab fare here. That reminds me; you look pretty spry for a guy who was practically crying on my shoulder in gratitude for a few shots of booze yesterday."
Carpenter laughed.
"Let's say I've been distracted from my usual vices."
Suddenly, the door opened and a woman with a shock of wild, grey-blonde hair appeared like an apparition. She wore tight, faded jeans, worn cowboy boots and an oversized, pale-grey sweatshirt. Her face was handsome, lined with as many laughs as frowns and had bright blue eyes.
"Carpenter! You old son of a bitch! C'mere, you." The woman seized Carpenter and kissed him hard on the mouth," Blech! What the hell have you been smoking? Brush your teeth next time, will you?" She thrust him away with a grimace and looked him over.
"Jesus, you stink! When was the last time you had a bath, Preacher-man?" She spared Solomon a brief but appraising glance," Who's the stiff?"
"Doctor D'Archangelo, this is my colleague, Mr. Solomon. We're involved in a case and we'd like to -"
"Cadge some free information? What else is new? C'mon in. You, too Mr. Stiff."
"That's Solomon" He snorted.
"That's what I said." she replied, unimpressed.
They entered the shabby house and Solomon looked in amazement at the psychotic jumble that constituted the interior of the place. Nearly entire flocks of stuffed birds swayed from where they were suspended from the high, grubby ceiling and maps and charts of all kinds were tacked haphazardly on the wall above an enormous oak desk layered and festooned with books and papers. Balls of crumpled paper were heaped around and in a battered metal waste basket and the area was boxed in with shabby wooden filing cabinets. On top of the cabinets stood several telescopes on small tripods, a few cameras and a scattering of film canisters. All this was crammed into what must have been a spacious living room. Now, the floors were taken up with copying machines, massive library-style bookshelves and , of all things, a weathered foosball table. They filed past the barely controlled chaos to a doorway that led downwards. Sounds of small electrical motors and bubbling liquids indicated that this was where the current work was going on. They made their way down the creaky stairs and into the dimly lit basement laboratory below.
The lab was a place of wonders. Miles of glass tubing meshed and coiled around retort stands and flaming bunsen burners as beakers of bubbling fluid circulated and percolated through the myriad maze of Erlenmeyer flasks, graduated cylinders and other exotic glassware.
On the other side of the cramped room, networks of wire and cable ensnared a forest of vacuum tubes encapsulating red-hot zinc plates. Oscilloscopes blipped and VandeGraaf generators crackled. Horizontal bands of arcing electricity climbed Jacob's ladders and the air was thick with ozone and the smell of scorched circuit boards. The walls were heavy with shelving supporting boxes of parts and spools of wire. Boxes of glass tubing and crates of clean, new test tubes were arranged below the work benches on further shelving. The entire room seemed alive with pulsating, crackling humming artificial life. The one window set deep into the thick concrete of the wall revealed only grime and the green hue of well-overgrown grass.
"The place hasn't changed a bit. How are you Julia?" Carpenter smiled a truly warm, almost-sad smile at the woman. Solomon noticed that for all her gruff eccentricity, she was actually quite attractive in a Phyllis Dillerish sort of way. Solomon knew he was no genius but he felt he could recognise it in others. He could see it in Carpenter's eyes, maybe as early as when he bought him his first drink. He could see that same fire in Dr. D'Archangelo's eyes now.
They entered an orderly room through a thick, plank door that yielded to a single massive skeleton-type key. Within, row upon row of neat, sturdy bookshelves lined the singularly uncluttered walls. Near the back of the large room, were oak and glass cases protecting large but probably fragile ancient books and finally, a small. spartan desk with a very new and very expensive computer array taking up most of its surface.
"I take it, this is the real lab; and the one out there is to impress investors and bamboozle nosy parkers like me." Solomon smiled.
"Carpenter, your man here is a sharp one. I think I like him. Now tell me what brought you here." She seated herself behind the console and touched the mouse. Immediately the screen saver winked off and the machine was ready to take commands.
"So, give. What can I do for you?" She cracked her knuckles and winked at Solomon.
Carpenter told her the whole story as it had happened and finally posed the question that needed answering more than anything.
"First of all, what is Tsathoggua? Second, what can we use to seal the doorway Tsathoggua is using to reach out into our world?"
Doctor D'Archangelo lit a small cigar with a wooden match on the seam of her jeans and frowned for a moment. Kicking off her worn boots to reveal tanned dainty feet with toe-rings and painted nails, she sat herself down on a large, old oak office chair that had been made more comfortable by the addition of a tasselled cushion. The woman crossed her legs under her and began to manipulate the keyboard with the urgent fluttering of keys.
"Have a seat, boys. This is going to take a little time here." They obeyed her, sitting down on matching leather armchairs that faced the glass-walled case.
"Looks like some expensive books in there," Solomon tried to make conversation.
"Some of the rarest, to be sure. As for expensive?" Carpenter smiled grimly," There are more than a handful of people in this city alone who would cheerfully kill to get them."
"Why am I not surprised?" Solomon shook his head. Minutes passed and the clicking of the keyboard began to lull the men into sleep. An hour later, the two were slumped in their chairs and had just started to snore when the clicking stopped and the office chair squeaked loudly.
"C'mon, boys! Snap out of it! I've got something and it's big. This is a major league event, boys. I'm sure you knew that. I've been wondering how a being like that would manifest itself in a place like that abandoned foundry and I think if I examine the history of the building, I'll find the connection."
The two men yawned, their lack of sleep catching up to them. Carpenter, in particular was having a rough time. Years of booze and cigarettes had taken their toll on the ex-priest, and at this moment, suddenly woken from sleep, he looked a wreck, Solomon noticed. Carpenter rubbed his eyes, and scrubbed his face with his cupped hands. Solomon wasn't feeling too much better. He was younger than Carpenter and not subjected to the ravages of his vices, but he still had been robbed of sleep and was feeling the results of that. His clothes were hopelessly rumpled and he knew he stank of sweat and cigarettes.
"Ok, sweetheart, what have you got for me?" He pulled the chair around to face her desk and she swivelled her monitor around to show them what she had gathered.
"Ok, your first question was 'what is Tsathoggua?' This is what I was able to dredge up." She clicked the keyboard again. " I'm printing all this out for you, but the gist of it is this; Tsathoggua is a god-being that was worshipped in Mesopotamia and early Babylon but there's evidence that its religion predated those cultures. There are even rumours that some Cro Magnon and Neanderthal excavation sites have yielded artifacts that bear inscriptions similar to ones found on the Ishtar Gate and other relics from Sumerian times. That would mean ..."
"That would mean that this is a pre-human religion." Carpenter interrupted in a voice tinctured with awe.
"So it would seem," The Doctor shrugged," As for your second question, how do you seal the doorway to keep him out? That's more difficult. This sort of thing needs big medicine. The kind of medicine you can't buy at Shoppers Drug Mart. I've downloaded all the pertinent news and historical information I could find on the Titan Foundry and I think this one event was the trigger. It seems that just before the place finally closed down, two workers were killed when an inexperienced operator pulled the wrong lever and a crucible filled with molten metal tipped over, spilling its contents directly on top of them. I think this might have been the first blood sacrifice that opened the gate, at least enough for Tsathoggua to make contact with our world. Then it waited until it could feed enough to finally break free. Of course, that does point a finger at the solution as well; this is going to need blood. Clean and freely given. Nothing short of a voluntarily sacrificed human life is going to close that door with any permanence. It was blood that opened it and let it out and it will have to be blood that closes it down. How big of a manifestation has occurred so far?"
"Pretty big. Maybe 70% complete, tangible manifestation. A little more juice and it will be here to stay." Carpenter said gravely
"Well, without its 'high priest' it will be a lot more difficult to lure victims close." Solomon reasoned.
"I was thinking about that," Carpenter said," It seemed strange that it would allow it's primary food lure escape and self-destruct so needlessly. Unless..."
"Unless?" Solomon waited for the blow.
"Unless he wasn't needed any more; unless he had already accomplished what had been assigned to him." Carpenter deduced.
"And what would that be?" Solomon asked, his eyes widening.
"That's what we have to find out... before it's too late."
They rose to leave, but the Doctor held up a slim hand.
"There's not a lot you to will be able to do in your condition. Take a couple of hours and sleep. I mean proper sleep in a bed and showers first. The both of you need a good scrubbing."
"I appreciate your help, Julia, but we have to get moving. There's so much at stake and-" Carpenter suddenly yawned cavernously and that set off Solomon soon after.
"That's what I mean, boys. You won't accomplish Jack-shit out there in your condition. Now off with those disgusting clothes and into the shower. Carpenter; you first. I don't know just where your current lifestyle's been leading you, but it sure hasn't been taking you anywhere near soap. Solomon, you next. Then, you sleep for at least four hours or I'll personally anesthetize you.
The two men, suddenly rather sheepish, fumbled and hesitated.
"Oh, for crying out loud. Come on, follow me. She led them to a clean, spartan bathroom down the hallway from the computer room and directed them as to where they might find soap and shampoo. She handed each of the men a clean folded white bathrobe and instructed them to leave their clothing in the hallway. She returned with a plastic laundry basket and when the last of the grimy, aromatic garments were piled on the floor, she gathered them and dumped them into a large washing machine.
When Carpenter came out of the steamy bright washroom, the Doctor showed him to a small bedroom next door.
"Look this isn't really necessary, Julia."
"I'll be the judge of that, Carpenter. Now get some sleep. I'll have your clothes ready in a couple of hours." she nearly turned to leave but at the last minute she hugged Carpenter close to her." What happened to you? What have you been doing all these years?" She looked up at him and her eyes were bright with tears.
"Bad things, Julia. Bad things. But I got a message from an old friend and he showed me how to get back on track." He hugged her back, holding her close and trying not to cry himself.
He let her go and silently went into the room and closed the door.
Soon after, Solomon came out, snapping off the light as he did.
"Oh, I sure needed that." he said to himself, grinning and scrubbing his head with a thick white towel.
"I'll say, " the Doctor stood leaning against the wall, waiting and smiling.
"Well, thank you for noticing. And thank you for your hospitality. I'm kind of coasting right now. This whole deal is beyond anything I've ever experienced and frankly, I'm glad to have a chance to make it go away for awhile. Now you said something about a bed?" Solomon smiled, finally relaxed in the midst of all the mystery and supernatural hoopla.
"I did indeed. Come this way." He followed her past the doorway of her computer room and found himself in a bright, modestly large room with a double bed and copious frilled pillows. A mirrored dresser and a tall clothes closet of dark, polished wood made Solomon frown.
"Doctor, I hope you're not giving up your room for me." He heard her move behind him.
"I don't intend to, Jess. And please.. call me Julia."
Solomon turned to find Doctor Julia D'Archangelo standing completely and prettily naked, her bright blue eyes now smokey with desire.
"Oh my," Solomon could only whisper as she slinked closer.

The room was lit by a single candle and Solomon could see The Doctor sitting cross-legged across from him on the bed, the yellow-orange candle-light falling upon her bare skin and looking like warm gold. She smiled at him and he smiled back, a little childlike.
"Julia, I can hardly believe it."
She laughed lightly as she lit a cigarette.
"That good, eh?"
"No. I mean yes, oh course, it was fantastic. I mean that I can't believe all that's happened to me in the last two days. It's like a dream and a nightmare, all rolled up in one." Solomon lit a cigarette for himself and leaned back against the cool wall." Two days ago, I was just a workaday nobody inspecting condemned buildings and counting the days until I could retire. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose and I'm shown a side of reality I never would have dreamed of, let alone experienced. It's almost like living a second lifetime in only forty-eight hours."
Solomon sucked a deep drag on the cigarette and let out the smoke like a man who suspected this might be his last one for a long time. Maybe forever.
"It's kind of funny." she said, reaching out with her slender foot and touching his leg,"you and Carpenter act as though you've known each other for years."
Solomon smiled.
"It's the intimacy only a man and his priest can share."
She laughed at the small joke .
"So where did you meet Carpenter?" He asked.
"I've known him for about twenty years, all told. I met him at a seminar for paranormal studies in Boston. He just happened to agree on a few theories I hold with. We talked at length, exchanged cards and one day I got a letter from him asking if I'd help him in a small matter. Turns out it was an horrific situation involving a hideous dwarf-"
Solomon interrupted.
"The Hob's Lane Dwarf?"
She frowned.
"How'd you know about that?"
Solomon smiled.
"Carpenter mentioned it."
The Doctor paused to savour another puff from her cigarette and then continued.
"I only saw the results of that case but I wasn't directly involved. I dug out some information for Carpenter and his gang and although it seemed odd, I was accustomed to bizarre phenomenon," she crushed out the cigarette in a battered ashtray on the bedside table and the candle flickered with the movement," When I saw just what had happened; the death, the destruction. The pictures of that glowing ship, pulsating with - veins and arteries. I very nearly called Carpenter up and told him to never contact me again."
Solomon looked at her with respectful eyes.
"But, in the end my curiosity got the better of me and Carpenter knew I was hooked. So here I am, lucky for you."
She smiled again and crawled over to Solomon.
"I like you, Jess. As you can tell I don't get out much. I don't have what you'd call a social life. Being with you like this makes me realize what I've been missing for such a long time. I think I could get to like you a lot." she whispered as she pulled him closer and they embraced warmly, kissing each other softly.
" by the way, Jess." The Doctor whispered as she ran her fingers through his thinning hair."Are you married?"
Solomon nearly laughed out loud at her audacity and hugged her close.
"No, Baby. No, I'm not."

Carpenter awoke and, for a few moments, was tense and confused. Then, memory returned and he relaxed. He sat up, stretched and turned to place his feet on the carpeted floor.
Julia was right. He really needed the rest. He felt... good, maybe for the first time in years. Certainly the call of the bottle was there. It would always be there, Carpenter figured, but right now he was actually looking forward to dealing with this new threat. It was just like old times, he mused and smiled as he noticed his clothes, cleaned and folded on a chair by the door. He dressed quickly, and realized for the first time in a very long while, he was hungry.
He met Solomon in the computer room. He too, was dressed in his own freshly cleaned clothes and had benefited from a shave. He looked up at him and put a look on his face he hadn't seen before.
"Everything ok, Jess?" Carpenter whispered as he noticed footsteps coming down the stairs outside.
"Oh, I'm fine." he said sheepishly. " Still a little tired. I didn't sleep well."
Carpenter looked into Solomon's eyes and he then understood, and began to laugh.
"I don't see what's so funny. That Doctor friend of yours seduced me." Solomon looked uncomfortable.
The door opened and the Doctor appeared, smiling and looking quite satisfied.
"C'mon, boys. I have some supper waiting upstairs. I haven't had a chance to cook for company in a long time." Carpenter, still smiling mischievously, patted Solomon on the shoulder and they both followed her upstairs.
The sat at a hurriedly cleared-off oak table before an enormous plattered mound of fried pork chops and a vast bowl of buttered mashed potatoes, to be washed down with several frosted bottles of strong Canadian beer. Carpenter seated himself and made motions to impale a fat, steaming chop on the end of his fork. Both the Doctor and Solomon looked at Carpenter and for a moment, he stared back, puzzled. Then he understood and smiled guiltily, restoring the meat onto its dish.
He folded his hands and spoke softly.
"Dear Lord, we thank you for this repast you have set before us. Please Bless this food and drink and give us the strength to do your work this night, Amen."
"Thought you were getting rusty there, Carpenter." The Doctor smiled. teasing.
Then, without further words, they proceeded to fill their plates.
No one spoke further of the impending adventure ahead; instead, they enjoyed the simple pleasure of good, plentiful food and warm companionship. Laughter and the warm, homey sound of forks clinking on plates sounded throughout the room and Carpenter watched as Solomon and Julia kept stealing glances at one another. He smiled sadly to himself. He truly hoped that the impromptu relationship would work out. There was so much to do and so little time to do it in. He was amazed at how calm he felt. Here on the literal Eve of Destruction, here he was, chowing down on delicious food and drink with barely a care in the world. Maybe it was supposed to be this way; maybe it wasn't just Julia, Solomon and himself. Maybe they had another member of their team who was already making moves and was waiting for them when they were ready.
Carpenter suddenly felt an even greater sense of well being and quiet confidence. They weren't alone in this world; they were never alone.
Dinner continued and until hungers were satisfied and they all washed and dried dishes in an atmosphere of jubilation, as though they had just finished Christmas dinner and were looking forward to a relaxing evening of conversation, drinks and chocolate.
Carpenter wondered if the Apostles felt this way as they enjoyed their last meal with their Master.
When all was done, they trooped back to the Doctor's computer room and prepared for the final briefing they knew was to come. By now, it was nearly six o'clock in the early evening and the shades of night were beginning to creep.
"All right, boys. While you were sacked out, I did a little looking around. I managed to intercept an encrypted email message that has been bouncing around for the last day or so. A lot of drug-dealing and trafficking has been taking place on the net since transactions can't be traced yet. Anyone can go to an internet bar or lounge, log on and do whatever dastardly deals they want with no record of it ever happening. I know, because that's how I got some of my more diabolical antique books."
Carpenter smiled.
"I didn't think that you ordered them through Barnes and Noble."
"You got that right. Anyway, I intercepted this encrypted email through one of my many on-line aliases and the machine has been working on it for the last few hours, decoding it. I fed in a list of random words I gleaned from your description of what you had witnessed. I had a hunch that if I put out a search for any encrypted email that included any of the words on my list, eventually I'd hit the jackpot; and so I did. The only information in this particular message that wasn't in code was the signature."
"What was the name?" Carpenter sat forward in his chair.
"No name. Just two words. 'High Priest."
Carpenter looked aghast.
"You mean you had information about this all this time while we were stuffing our faces upstairs?"
A look or vague hurt flashed across the Doctor's face for just a brief moment, but Solomon caught it and frowned at Carpenter.
"Keep your pants on, Carpenter. I just said the machine has been working on the encryption since it arrived a few hours ago. What would you have preferred? Getting some much-needed rest and a good meal or sitting in front of this monitor sweating over the code to be broken?
Carpenter looked chastened.
"I thought so. Now, as it happens, the computer has nearly completed decoding the content of the message and the two of you are properly fed and rested enough to act on whatever we find."
Just then, a tinny voice spoke up from the console.
"I'm here to kick ass and chew bubble-gum... and I'm all out of bubble-gum."
The Doctor tapped a key and the message scrolled up onto the monitor. She scanned it and turned to the two men.
It says,' Attention, purveyors of exotic pharmaceuticals; take advantage of the security and privacy of the abandoned Titan Foundry building. There will be no charge for this service and plenty of profit to be made." the Doctor read the missive as it scrolled upward, "that's all, except for the address, date and time."
The room grew silent, but for the unconcerned humming of the computer.
"And when is this pharmaceutical free-for-all due to take place?"
Carpenter's face was grave.
The Doctor looked grim.
"In about two hours."
Solomon looked puzzled.
"So what does it mean?"
Carpenter turned to face Solomon.
"Tsathoggua had our Mr. Frohickey arrange a nice buffet meal for itself. The combined life force of a crowd of eager drug-dealers will be more than enough to bring it into our world for keeps; unless we can do something to prevent it.
Carpenter stood up.
"Then we have to go now."
"I agree. let's go." The Doctor powered down her instrument.
"Not you, Julia. This is -"
"What? Man's work? You gotta be kidding me. I can see what our resources are; a drunkard ex-priest and a recruit from the bush leagues. No offence, darlin'. You're going to need all the help you can get. And I'm not going to sit here and wonder how it all turned out, no sir." The Doctor laid down the law and neither Carpenter or Solomon could find reason to argue with her. The truth was, they were out of their league and scared.
"One more thing; Jess, you got any more money?"
"No. Not any more." He shot an aggravated look at Carpenter who shrugged.
"Well, it's settled then, 'cause I got a car. Let's get moving."
With that, the group turned out the lights and locked up the old house .
One of them would never return.
The car was a small, foreign import of indeterminate age and colour. They piled in and the Doctor took the wheel. The engine growled and started without difficulty.
"I keep the insides in prime condition. The crappy exterior helps it blend in with the neighbourhood." the Doctor smiled.
The vehicle pulled out of its driveway and was soon speeding away into the nearing sunset.
The journey was made in silence, as each of them finally was forced to confront what this night's work might entail. There was a certain primal comfort, being encapsulated within the secure confines of the auto, dim streetlights waxing and waning, headlamps flashing by and the gentle sense of motion and speed. Carpenter was strapped in the back seat of the slightly cramped car. It reminded him of rides with his parents long ago. He could lie in the back seat of the car as they drove home in the dark of evening after a visit to some distant relative. As a child, he remembered how reassuring to hear the gentle conversation between his mother and father during the trip home. There were no worries and his young self possessed the absolute calm and unquestioning trust most children feel towards their parents. It was this that lulled him to sleep in those long ago, far away days of his distant youth. Oh, how he wished he could go back to that safe, dark back seat and sleep again.
Although it was only mentioned once, each of them had the dread knowledge burned into their memory by the sheer enormity of the sacrifice that was demanded to undo the horror they were hastening to meet. The willing sacrifice of one human would close and lock the gate through which the life-sucking monster Tsathoggua had managed to squirm out of.
No one wanted to broach the subject but it would soon be the focal point of everything and upon which all would depend. Carpenter decided to speak first.
"I'm the one, do you understand?"
"Huh? What did you say, Carpenter?" Solomon said from the front seat.
"I'm going to be the one." Carpenter repeated.
"Carpenter, you can't." It was the Doctor's voice.
"I can and I will, Julia. Of the three of us here, I'm the most expendable." Carpenter argued.
"You've never forgiven yourself for what happened to Mathew and the rest of your team, have you? You figure by offering up your own life, you'll achieve some sort of karmic balance." the Doctor accused. Solomon wanted to offer his own reasoning for preserving Carpenter's life, but found himself frozen in the act, wanting to disagree with him but also quailing at the alternative. He didn't want to die; that was a certainty. And now that he had met and had become enamoured with Dr. Julia D'Archangelo, he actually thought there might be a future worth waking up to. He felt miserable with the guilt of it, but he couldn't bring himself to say anything.
"Julia, I understand why you’re saying this. But it's something I have to do. Jess, you wondered why I had such a sudden change of heart after I stalked out of the bar two nights ago. I was finished and waiting to die. As I was about to be obliged by a gang of two-bit punks, I was - visited." Carpenter hesitated, trying to think of a way to articulate what he had experienced. "I was confronted by a spirit who saved me from an ugly death. It was ... Matthew."
No one spoke for a few moments. There was none of the 'were you imagining things' or there's bound to be a rational explanation'. If there was one thing Carpenter could be relied on, it was a solid, unvarnished recall of a definite supernatural occurrence.
"That's how I know that I have a destiny here. A chance to redeem myself after all these horrible years of guilt and self-pity. A second chance." Carpenter looked almost comforted by the thought." It's my manifest destiny." At that, no one could think of anything more to say, and the quiet was suddenly chill.
The drive continued and soon, the fortress-like bulk of the accursed building loomed ahead, the bloated, blood-red sun sinking behind it.
"So, what's our story?" The Doctor broke the silence first.
"What do you mean?" Solomon frowned.
"We can't just walk in there with a dozen, trigger happy drug dealers hanging around, looking for narks."
"We're going in as drug dealers." Carpenter said mildly. He rummaged in his coat pockets and withdrew the leather case containing the metal hypodermic syringe he had used on Willis Frohickey." This should help gain their confidence, and this will clinch the effect for us." He brandished a small brown-leather wallet that he had secreted in the same pocket with the syringe case.
"What's that?" Solomon asked, puzzled.
"You'll know soon enough.
They parked the car some distance from the main building and got out, their features made ruddy by the dying sun. Carpenter looked into it for a few brief moments, taking what he believed would be his last view of the star.
"Ok, both of you. Roll up your sleeves." Carpenter opened the leather wallet to reveal small glass vials of different colours and several short paintbrushes. He opened one of the vials and chose his finest brush, taking the Doctor by the hand first."It's a makeup kit, if you haven't guessed by now. I'm going to simulate track marks on your arms and put some pallor on your faces and dark circles under your eyes. If we're going to be drug enthusiasts, we have to look the part."
Solomon smiled at Carpenter's ingenuity but the Doctor showed nothing. Carpenter worked on each of them for about ten minutes apiece and when he had put away his makeup kit, he was confronted by a pair of very desperate-looking junkies.
"What about you?" the Doctor asked.
"I'm your father, who'll do anything, even commit a crime to keep you both happy. Now, look; this is a feeble disguise, I know but as long as it gets us in the building. From there, we can hide and decide our next move. Now, let's get going."
They walked the remaining distance to the foundry, of which only the top half was illuminated by the vanishing sun. At once, the group understood the significance of the sight. When darkness fell completely, the Horror would emerge, this time permanently. It was difficult not to rush but they had to maintain the illusion of being an aged father doting on his two junkie children. They made their way across the dusty parking lot, aware that they were being monitored and they tried not to appear self-conscious.
When they made it to the door, they found that the chain and lock had been expertly picked and lay in the dust. The door was slightly ajar and a burly man seemed to ooze out of the darkness within. He wore dark glasses and a black leather coat that bulged suggestively under the armpit.
"Where do you think you're going, old man?" The thug spoke his cliché.
The Doctor reached into her pocket and took out a folded piece of grimy paper, and handed it to the thug. He unfolded it and studied it briefly. He reached out and grabbed the Doctor's arm and gave it a cursory glance.
"Wanna party later?" she breathed, her eyes dreamily half closed. He smiled with an expression that said, 'Not if you were paying me, junkie-bitch'.
Satisfied, he motioned them to enter and the door closed again.
Inside, it was a chore to get accustomed to the dark but with the help of another thug they soon found their way to the oven-chamber. Inside, the buzz of conversation and the reek of cigarette smoke made its own dark atmosphere within. It was the smell of grubby bills and dirty drug-packets; of gun oil and sour sweat; of whispered threats and sudden death. In a way, thought Carpenter, it was worse than the other-worldly stench of Tsathoggua and its cosmic ilk.
When they were certain that they couldn't be overheard, Carpenter turned to the Doctor.
"What was that paper you gave that guy at the door? I thought we were almost out of the game back there."
She smiled smugly.
"Told you you'd need me. It was the printout of the invite to this little party."
Solomon smiled.
"Nice performance out there."
"Thanks. What do we do now, though?"
They stayed close as they watched clandestine deals being made; large ones with aluminum briefcases being traded and small ones with surreptitious exchanging of small white bags and crumpled bills. Twice they were approached by prospective sellers but were turned down as they mentioned they were waiting to see what the best deals were going to be later into the night.
They made little impression on the gathering crowd of traffickers and as the trade increased they were soon forgotten and able to sink into the shadows, to finally disappear. The heady lure of easy money and the siren song of drugs made the dealers and buyers oblivious to anything without flashing lights and a uniform. Outside, the last noose of sunlight slipped off the top of the highest smokestack and the building was engulfed in shadow.
That's when it started.
Carpenter and the others were on the lookout for something to happen, but unsure of what. They stayed within the shadows of the far walls and watched the milling group of merchants. Then Solomon spoke in an urgent whisper.
"Hey! I see something. Look! The grate of the oven - of all the ovens... they're glowing."
Even as he warned the others, the vertical slits of each of the eight ovens in the room gave off a bleary, sickly green light that increased in brightness by the passing second. Carpenter had only those seconds to act and he did so. He pulled out his pistol and fired it into the air twice. He began to bellow as soon as the echoing booms diminished.
"This is the Police! All of you, put your hands on your heads and drop to your knees! This is a raid!" This prompted the response Carpenter had anticipated; they began to run. The crowd of thirty or more potential drug buyers/sellers pocketed their cash and snapped shut their cases and ran madly towards the doorway amidst shouts and curses. The never noticed the ever-building intensity of the monstrous light that began to illuminate the quickly emptying ruin.
In a moment, they were alone. The last of Tsathoggua's feast had scampered away, and with them, the only chance to achieve a permanent foothold on corporeal earth. When it appeared to find it's plan destroyed, it wasn't likely to be happy.
"You two have to get out of here now!" Carpenter urged as the light grew brighter and a whistling tumult of wind gathered." It's going to be both pissed and ravenous. I told you that I had to be the one to put an end to it and that’s what I'm going to do. Now go!"
They gazed upon Carpenter with stricken eyes and slowly backed away from him.
The odd, luminous-paint effect began to manifest itself again, and the eerie, floating sphere that was so unsettlingly eyelike began to form near the high ceiling. It would be weak from lack of sustenance but that would make it all the more voracious and vengeful. Carpenter knew he had to time his next move properly, or there might be no second chance.
He dropped his weapon and began to walk towards the entity.
Solomon and the Doctor had left the main area of the chamber and were watching the events that were unfolding from the shelter of a heavy doorway that led to the outside.
They saw Carpenter drop his gun and start his walk towards the heart of the coalescing horror. They were both frozen and speechless with fear and helpless grief as the inevitable began to unfold. Solomon's hands held the Doctor's firmly as the green iridescence of the cavern grew brighter. A loud vibration began to throb through the structure and dust and small bits of plaster and cracked concrete started to drop from high above. It was a low, buzzing frequency that made the bowels flutter and the teeth ache. Carpenter was nearly in the centre of the room when he faltered. He stood, shaking his head and shouting inaudibly then collapsed to the floor.
"Carpenter's down!" Solomon shouted above the rumble."I don't know if that's what he intended to happen, but the thing doesn't look like it's vanishing anywhere." The Doctor looked on, her face set in a rictus of fear.
"He must have collapsed from exhaustion. What do we do now?"
Solomon's face calmed and he turned to the Doctor.
"There's only one thing we can do."

Carpenter was walking into the heart of the demon fire. He often wondered how he would face his end when it came. He had a moment of that experience five years ago when he wrestled the massive Sword of Archangel Michael across a chamber not unlike this one, filled with howling demons. This time, he was amazed that he felt no fear. He knew he was doing the right thing and for the right reasons. The pain and remorse he had been suffering through all these years hence would be over and he could be free.
The wind had been replaced by the gut-churning rumbling and he knew that Tsathoggua would be marshalling its remaining energies to strike out at him for interfering in its plan. Carpenter had to be at the epicentre of the manifestation for the sacrifice to have the maximum effect. Sacrifice at the improper moment would weaken Tsathoggua but not banish it permanently. He marched on, feeling a dignity that he had been lacking for many years.
It was going to work.

A swirl of wind whipped past him, making tiny funnels from the dust on the floor. The whirlwind increased in intensity and began to buffet him. He found it harder and harder to move forward and he then realized that the wind was trying to prevent him from getting to his destination. He fought it, thinking that it was another manifestation of Tsathoggua, but a whispering voice in his brain told him something he could barely believe.
"Father, this isn't your destiny. There is another who must take on this burden. There are tasks yet remaining for you." The voice was clear and hazy at the same time but Carpenter knew who it was. He gaped in shocked surprise.
"Matthew!" He felt himself battered gently by the relentless whirlwind and he fell, exhausted on the floor, unable to fight the tempest.

"Whatever's happened to him, the sacrifice still has to happen. There's no choice." Solomon looked into the Doctor's gleaming wet eyes and kissed her with all the love and passion he could muster. Then, regretfully and all too soon, released her.
"Goodbye, Julia. Thanks for everything. I've gotten more out of the last two days than... well, you know what I mean. Take care, sweetheart; remember me." And with that he strode off towards Carpenter's prone body. The Doctor touched her lips where he kissed her and wept, tears freely coursing down her lean cheeks.
"Goodbye, Jess." she whispered.

Solomon stooped briefly over Carpenter and looked for signs of life. He was relieved to see the old man breathing and staring wildly at him.
"Don't worry, Carpen - I mean, Father. I know what to do. Take care of Julia for me will you?" he hesitated and found he had little more to say," I gotta go, Father. Maybe I'll see you again some time." and with that, he turned and walked onward.
Carpenter could do nothing more than watch. Solomon's figure became a silhouette before the now-strident green brilliance of the nearly-emerged god-being. Booming sounds, like the distant rumble of artillery sounded and reverberated throughout the glaringly bright room and Carpenter realized that the thing was speaking. Solomon, at that point vanished within the almost-unbearably scintillant heart of the inferno and everything went black.

Carpenter was never certain afterwards whether he had been unconscious and dreaming or awake and hallucinating at that moment but there was a part of the incident that he never spoke of. Even Julia D'Archangelo, who had better reason than most to be told everything, was never informed of what Carpenter had seen, or thought he had seen when everything went black and the unclean brilliance of Tsathoggua was extinguished forever.
He recovered from his alcohol dependency or at least as well as anyone ever does. He eventually found his way back to the Church where he was welcomed back as the prodigal son he was. He presented the case of the Incident to the Archbishop and the Vatican representative and was restored to good graces and more. He visited Doctor D'Archangelo occasionally and sometimes they took dinner together. They never spoke of the incident and both of them had plenty of other subjects to occupy their conversation so the subject remained buried under small talk and work talk. It was a year later that Carpenter found himself at the Doctor's house once more, to research a new case and to enjoy her company. She had made dinner for them and when it came time to sit at the table, Carpenter was fatigued from his studies and ravenous.
"Julia, I'm so glad we see each other more often now. You can't imagine how awful I felt all those years. I sometimes still can't believe I made it out."
The Doctor smiled, her face a little leaner than a year ago, but still filled with the indefinable quality of youth that helped make her the scientist she was.
"Trust me; you made it." She spoke as she entered the room carrying a platter. She set it down and Carpenter looked at the contents with more than a trace of surprised sadness.
"Pork chops." He said quietly with a faint smile.
"And mashed potatoes with butter." the Doctor smiled. "It's been over a year now. I thought it would be nice to remember him by." Carpenter smiled as well.
"I set a spot for him too." she said, a quaver in her voice," and a candle in the window." At that she began to sob, and Carpenter held her until the spell lessened.
"It's ok, Julia. I miss him too." He held the woman until she was compelled to get up in search of a handful of tissues. When she had settled down, they took their places at the table to eat and drink as they knew Solomon would have wanted them to. The meal was eaten with gusto but tinged with a note of melancholy as their eyes fell on the empty chair and table setting. Carpenter smiled sardonically as he eyed the brightly conspicuous soda bottles that had taken the place of beer.
Afterwards they lingered over the chilled soft-drinks. The mood now was sombre but not unpleasant. The Doctor and Carpenter laughed with genuine humour over off-colour jokes she had heard and even Carpenter told a joke of questionable taste he had heard during his 'exile', as he referred to those years. Then a moment of silence fell, and the two of them looked into each others' eyes and Carpenter spoke.
"Julia, there's something I should tell you. It's about the night this whole thing ended. When Jess went into - where he went and the darkness fell, I saw something. I never told anyone about this because I couldn't prove I was even conscious at the time. But it concerns Jess so I think I should tell you.
The Doctor took a long pull from her bottle and crossed her arms on the table.
"Go ahead, Carpenter. I had a feeling that you were holding out on me, even back then. I was wondering if you'd ever bring up the subject." She fiddled with a spoon.
Carpenter looked surprised at the Doctor's comment but continued.
"It was very brief. When I fell, you thought I had collapsed from exhaustion. Well, I did; but exhaustion brought on by fighting against..." Carpenter paused, trying to word his statement properly," a ghost."
The Doctor frowned and dropped the spoon.
"A ghost? Whose ghost? " Carpenter knew she would believe that he had seen a ghost. It was the matter of its identity that concerned her.
"It was Matthew. "
"What was he doing? Why was he trying to stop you?" Her voice, now honing an edge, lost its comforting warmth.
"He told me I still had work to do here. He told me it wasn't my time yet. And I fell, unable to move or even speak."
"So that's why Jess sacrificed himself? Because your old buddy intervened? Jess might be alive right now if -" The Doctor suddenly realized what the end of that statement would be if she continued and stopped abruptly, her face reddening.
"He'd be alive and I wouldn't. I know. But remember, I had made my decision. If I could have stopped Jess I would have. To see him take my place broke my heart; he hadn't wanted anything to do with this. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I knew it. But the deed is done and at least we have the knowledge of what his sacrifice bought. But that's not what I wanted to tell you. I want to tell you what happened after everything went dark."
Carpenter unwrapped a stick of gum and folded it into his mouth, chewing with the rapid dedication only a another ex-smoker could understand.
"I don't know how long I lay there. It couldn't have been long but it seemed like hours. I heard voices, music, shouting. Maybe it was subconscious echoes in my own head, for all I know. But one event was very clear. I saw two figures approach me from the distant darkness. They got closer and I realized I knew both of them. It was Matthew and," Carpenter hesitated for a moment," and Jess."
"Jess?" the Doctor said with a look of shock."
"Yeah, Jess. He was dressed in a dark robe, as was Matthew. They came up to me and the two of them were smiling down at me. Matthew spoke first.
"Sorry to buffet you about like that Father, but I'm still really rusty at manifestations in the physical world. I just thought you should know that everything is as it was and Tsathoggua has been banished for good. There may be other gates but this one will never open again. Just like old times, eh Father? I know how you've suffered and blamed yourself for what happened all those years ago, but you have to put it behind you. You did what you had to do and we all believed it was right. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made but that's what buys safety and peace for everyone else."
"Julia, he looked at me with forgiveness and understanding and from that moment, I really felt I could make it out of the pit I had dug for myself. But then Jess spoke and I was really afraid of what he might say to me now."
"Carpenter, you wouldn't believe some of the things I've seen here. It's incredible! I'll admit that I was a little pissed at your man here for stacking the deck so I'd have to take the fall, but after what I've experienced here, I can't thank him enough. I also know things that make everything else so much easier to understand. If only everyone else knew... anyway, I've been allowed to tell you something. There are more jobs for you ahead and for some of them you'll need our help. That's all I can tell you, but when the time comes, you'll know what I mean." and then the two of them actually smiled at each other as though they’d just joined in a conspiracy." Carpenter finished his soda and set the bottle down lightly.
"He had one more thing to say. He said,' Tell Julia thanks for one of the finest moments in my life... and that I'd like to see her again."
The Doctor's eyes widened and after an indeterminable moment, she began to laugh.
Carpenter, shrugged, not knowing how to interpret this reaction. He waited until she calmed down.
"My god!" she spoke through stray chuffs of laughter." So that's what's been going on."
"Julia, what are you talking about?"
"Carpenter, for the last two weeks I've been thinking about Jess, unable to write without inadvertently typing Jess' name in my manuscripts and seeing his face in magazine and book illustrations. Don't you see? It is Jess. He's been trying to get my attention all along." She smiled and looked at the vacant chair with warmth. "Maybe he's with us right now."
Carpenter also looked and smiled. It was just possible.
"Oh, Carpenter. I just remembered. I have something for you here. I was out skimming pawn shops and second hand stores like I usually do on Saturdays, when I felt a compulsion to visit this one store near that crappy apartment you used to live in. I didn't want to be in that part of town but I had the weirdest sense of needing to be there. I thought is was peculiar, but after what you've now told me, it all comes together." She reached into a pocket and withdrew something small that glinted. She dropped it into Carpenters cupped hand and he gasped.
"I went into the place, saw the thing and bought it, all in the space of a minute or so. I usually browse for hours at places like that. But that day, I was there for only one thing. And there it is." She said triumphantly.
In Carpenters' open hand was the Ecclesiastical College ring he had pawned for whiskey so long ago. His eyes became moist at the sight and his fingers curled around it as he wept. The Doctor held him close and cried as well.

The next day, Carpenter's driver rang the doorbell of the mansion and Carpenter himself, refreshed and dressed in stark black suit and charcoal grey trench-coat answered the door and told the driver he'd be out in a minute.
The Doctor joined him at the door.
"Thanks for staying over, Carpenter. I appreciate you telling me what Jess had said to you. You were right in holding back till now. I wouldn't have been able to handle it back then." she smiled and held Carpenter close, kissing him on the mouth." mmm, that tastes a hell of a lot better than last time." she opened the door and he stepped out. He entered the big, black auto that waited patiently on the street and waved at her through the window as it pulled away.
He sat thinking about all that had happened and how all the pieces did seem to fit sometimes. He thought about what Matthew had said and what Jess had said.
He also wondered at the remark Jess had made about needing their help one day.

That was a day he honestly looked forward to.

The End