|Hotel Hades or It's Better to let Sleeping Dogs lie
by Charles M. Bonanno
© Charles M. Bonanno -- all rights reserved
Ever city has one... a dumping ground for all those deemed unfit to join the mainstream. This city is no different. Since it's founding centuries ago, the city has kept an unofficial area designated for those it wished to keep apart. An ever changing succession of diverse groups had been slowly shunted into this place for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes for their racial identity or religious practices, or in later decades, for their sexual persuasions. Each group in due course making way for the next group of unfortunates.
But this time the climb out would be far steeper, for this was the era of the SCAB.
If this hell-hole had a capital, the Hotel Hadeson would be it. Built ninety-four years ago it had outlived both the family for which it was named and its predicted life span. Too old to fully remodel, and too big to be cheaply demolished, a legion of city planners had grown old and retired while waiting for the chance to tear it down. Their chance never came.
Many years ago, during the height of the first Martian Flu riots, some urban wit had removed the 'o' and 'n' letters from the rooftop sign and Hotel Hades was born. Since that time of death and fear this change has seemed quite appropriate and the old sign has never been restored.
As panic swept the city metropolitan hospitals were unable to protect the Flu victims. Patients and attending medical personnel were relocated to other secret urban locations. Many such places were discovered and attacked. The patients and their valiant protectors were often killed during the riots that swept the city.
But not Hotel Hades.
Except for a decades old incident, the decaying hotel sits mostly undisturbed. The occupants of each floor finding within these old walls the anonymity they require to escape a world they longer fit in. Or, as is most common, a simple temporary place of refuge far from those that would do them ill. As for those outside the hotel, well, that's another matter.
Hades has a guardian... and this is his story.
Scene One: Hotel Hades, sidewalk: 9am
"Good morning, King", asks the newly arriving hotel day manager of the dog lying by Hotel Hades' front door. "How's that hip feeling this morning? Meet any new female 'friends' last night?"
The old German Shepherd raises his head to the gentle voice and slowly wags his tail, the cataract clouded eyes trying to find the source of the familiar voice. The graying muzzle opens to bring froth a strangled bark hardly audible to the clerk patting the old dog's head.
"Shush, now King! You'll only hurt that throat of yours. I'll have the kitchen bring you something soon. We're going to have a new guest today. I've got to get her room ready. Now don't wander off!", he says loudly while patting the dog's scruffy head fur again and giving it a worried look.
The poor old dog was clearly reaching his end. Nearly blind and half deaf, the clerk felt pity for the animal. He would miss him when he was gone. Old King has been a fixture of the hotel for a long, long time. Fate had deposited him at their door during the hotel's darkest hour, and Hotel Hades wouldn't be the same place without him.
Just then a police car pulls up to the curb and the driver calls out to the clerk. "Yo, Mighty Mouse, come over here! I've got a couple of questions for you!"
The tall rat faced Scab clerk gives King one final pat and walks towards the Police cruiser. "Ha, Ha! Officer Pig, Sir! If you need to know where the donut shop is, it's two blocks down and just past the Blind Pig."
The officer smiles and shakes hands with his old friend, a huge smile curling the lips on his tusked snout. "I wish I didn't Frank, the department's got me on another damned diet. The last perp I tackled is threatening to sue the department. I broke two of his ribs when I landed on him last week. His lawyer says it's unconstitutional to have a three hundred pound pig morph jumping on suspects. If we didn't have him on film running from that liquor store shooting I'd be pork chops by now!"
"Well, at least the soup kitchen next door wouldn't have to go shopping for a couple of weeks!" The two friends laugh at a joke they must have told each other a thousand times before.
"So what's up, Parker?", asks Frank of his long time friend and fellow Scab.
"We've had another attack late last night. A drug pusher was torn up real bad by some unknown assailant, he'd just made a coke sale to a minor around the corner. All he'll tell us is that some big black howling 'thing' jumped out of the ally and bit his ass off! You'd think these scumbags would be getting wise and avoiding this area by now. This must be the third attack this year for the 'Howler'."
Both men look where King is resting, his head swaying as if following the conversation. They both look at each other and then at the elderly animal. The instant response is predicable.
"You look out now, Frank. As if we didn't have enough to worry about, we've been getting more reports about that new teenage gang uptown. They've been shaking down Scab businesses left and right for 'protection' money. FBI reports claim they're a splinter Bloods group from out of state."
"So what's that have to do with me, Parker?", asks Frank.
"Well, they seem to have had some kind of connection with that cat thingamabob that was killed last month, the same one that attacked one of your new 'guests' down by the river. Rumors on the street says they dumped that crazy morph into the city like some kind of warning. There's no telling where those bastards might show up next."
"Now I understand, Parker. It's a crying shame that whatever got that pusher last night couldn't protect that poor rabbit morph. He's in real bad shape, mentally that is. Dr. Derksen had him transferred here from his uptown apartment. Even I haven't been able to get him to leave his room, or even do much talking."
"So what are you doing for him?", asks Parker.
"As of now, the best I can do is keep those damned Social Workers away from him. I'll do anything if I can keep even one Lapine out of those damned colonies.", Frank shudders in disgust at the thought of those places.
"Well, Frank, don't waste your time waiting for that hotel ghost to save your skinny tail. No damned urban myth is going come running if they show up. You call me if you hear the slightest rumor about this bunch. They're bad news and most likely coming this way."
"See yah, Frank. That care of yourself."
"Same here, Parker. Don't forget next week's poker game."
The police car speeds off in the direction of the donut shop. Frank shakes his head in silent laughter, his huge ears flapping. Well, that's the end of another diet!, he thinks to himself and enters the hotel after giving King one last pat on the head.
Scene Two: Hotel Hades, lobby: 9:30am
"Hello, you that 'Frank' guy I was told to ask for?", asks the taxi driver as he walks across the hotel's dimly lit lobby.
"In the fur. What can I do for you?", replies Frank to the driver who seeing him clearly for the first time obviously wishes he was somewhere else. Anyplace else.
"I got some patient of Dr. Cockroa...er Dr. Derksen ," he shudders with the memory of the his last pickup, "he said I was to bring her here. But now she won't leave my cab and she screams bloody murder if I open the damned door!" The meter's stopped, buddy. If you don't come and get her I'll dump her fuzzy behind on the sidewalk! I'm wasting time and I'm late already for an airport pickup!"
"OK, fine, keep your shirt on!", replies Frank.
The scene on the sidewalk is one Frank has seen many times before. Inside the taxi is a panicked High Degree Scab just minutes away from going totally feral.
She's a pretty little thing, Frank thinks to himself, I doubt if she's any bigger than a human six year old under all that fur.
The beautiful High Degree female Gray Squirrel morph is swaying mindlessly back and forth in the cab's back seat and chattering up a storm. Frank enters the cab's driver compartment and begins to speak softly to her through the security divider.
"Good morning, Ms. Reynolds. Don't be afraid, you're among friends here. Look, bright eyes, I'm a rodent morph just like you!" Frank grabs his long scaly tail and waves the tip under her snout. "No ones going to hurt you. You're safe now. Just close those beautiful eyes and take a few deep breaths. That's right, calm down and tell me what's wrong."
"He...he...he yelled at me! He...he... grabbed my arm and tried to pull me out when l asked him to wait for a couple minutes till the sidewalk was empty. Too many people, too many..." She start to hyperventilate again and chatter her huge front incisors.
"Calm down, please. Relax... relax...that's right. The bad man's gone. Just listen to my voice and close your eyes again. It's only me and you here. It's still early in the morning and the sidewalks' almost empty. No one will come near us if we leave the cab and enter the hotel. We won't leave until you want to..."
Finally, after a few minutes her long silky fur begins to lay flat on her slim figure, the huge bushy tail swaying behind her collapses onto the cab's sticky floor. With delicate paws clamped over her eyes her breathing begins to slow.
"Feeling better? Good. Now, I'm going to go outside and open your door. Just hold onto my hand and will be inside the hotel before you know it. Don't worry about seeing anything, just keep your eyes closed."
With years of practice Frank exists the cab and quietly opens the passenger compartment. Gently holding the shaking young girl by the hand, he leads the diminutive figure into the comfort of the hotel lobby and deposits her on one of the huge over-stuffed chairs. She promptly curls her tail over her head and disappears into a fuzzy ball, nearly inaudible sobs begin to emerge. Frank whirls in anger and walks up to the taxi driver.
"You idiot! Do you have any idea how much damage you could have done to that young lady?", he whispers softly at the cab driver while pushing his snout and sharp incisors within inches of his nose. "She's twelve years old and she's only been a Scab for only a couple of weeks! Her family dumped her on the street and Dr. Derksen found her living in a tree in Central Park! Now take your damned money and get lost, and don't think I won't report this incident to your boss!"
The cab driver stuffs the money in his jacket pocket and storms out of the building muttering something about cheese breath.
"What's up, Frank?", asks the assistant day clerk as he enters the lobby and goes behind the service counter. While waiting for the steaming morph to calm down he begins to read the memos left by the departed night crew.
"It's that damned norm, ah, no offense Tom!"
"None taken, so what happened and what's that vibrating pile of plush doing in the lobby? You buy a battery powered bed toy?", he ask whispering in a deadpan voice.
"VERY FUNNY, Tom, you wish. That's the new 'guest' for the third floor. Please take her up to 3A and get her comfortable. I'll be up shortly to give her the intro. speech.
"Gotcha, boss!", is all Tom says while shaking with laughter. He picks up the twitching bundle of fur and gently carries her towards the elevator. As he enters the elevator he suddenly stops the closing doors and throws the memo pad outside.
"Hey, Frank, catch... I almost forgot to give you the night clerk's last message. You'd better read it!", his over dramatic laughter is cut short by the closing doors.
Frank picks the papers off the floor and he begins to read.
Yah, right... you overstuffed Great Owl Scab. Keep this Oriental predator joke going and I'll tell everyone your real name and where you really come from, Guido Talervo of New York. What an insult! As if I'm going to be scared by a twelve foot long snake kid! , Frank thinks to himself.
Suddenly, something cold and very strong wraps around his clawed right foot. Looking down he sees the missing snake morph coiling around his foot and climbing up his leg. Its hissing voice is brimming with joy.
"Yesss, I caught one! I caught one! ABIG one... and it sssmelsss deliciousss!"
Frank points his muzzle up at the ceiling and begs in a demanding voice, "shoot me!"
Scene Three: The Blind Pig: 11am
The bar is nearly empty, only the usual canine clientele are present and accounted for. All are in a very foul mood.
"... and then that stupid cop ordered me to sink my teeth into that damned wax cast. I know my rights, they can't do this to me!", complains Josh while sulking under the table.
"Well, I don't care how many times they drag us downtown, there's no way they're going to pin those 'Howler' attacks on one of us!", replies Wolfshead.
The last Lupine Boy present, Lupe, says nothing, he's too busy trying to remove the hardened dental wax from between his teeth with a kitchen knife. No one told him he wasn't suppose to eat the stuff.
Just then Wanderer rushes through the door and slams it hard behind him. He's so mad only inarticulate growls escape his usually erudite muzzle.
"Damned... all... cops... to... perdition!", he finally gets out while ordering a coke from Donnie at the bar.
"What's the matter, Wan? The Howler got your tongue?", Lupe asks breaking his silence while waving the bent knife and spitting chunks of white dental wax onto the floor. Donnie stops polishing a beer mug and gives him a warning glare.
"Very funny, flea farm. Those uneducated flat feet interrupted a critical play dress rehearsal at the theater. Then they had the audacity to take me away in hand cuffs and a muzzle! Just because I refused to voluntarily go with those uneducated buffoons right then and there. The show's sponsors are royally annoyed, if they sense even the slightest bit of scandal they'll drop me from tonight's grand opening!"
"So... spit what they want you for, Wanderer?", asks Lupe while dispatching even more wax to the floor, and getting an even dirtier look from Donnie.
"It seems I've the darkest fur of any wolf morph within the area. They threatened to have a vet tranquilize me if I didn't 'voluntarily' give them a fang impression."
"You too, Wanderer?", asks Josh finishing his sulk and climbing back onto his chair. Wolfshead shares his drink by pouring some into Josh's empty drinking bowl.
"Afraid so, my four legged friend. They wanted to compare them against some guy's rear. When I offered to take off the muzzle and bite the detective's flabby butt instead, the low brow Neanderthal started pushing me around. If officer Parker hadn't walked in there's no telling how bad it would have gotten. That guy sure saved my bacon (pardon the expression). And don't you guys dare tell him what I just said!"
Before Wanderer could repeat his threat the door opens and Dr. Bryan Derksen enters the room. He goes straight to the bar and, using his voder, orders a soda water, brown sugar and maple syrup on the rocks. His latest insectoid creation. While drinking it through a straw he turns and waves to the others in the bar.
"Greetings, all! Man, what a rough morning!", he bugmorph announces to the nearly empty room while slurping the mixture up some unidentifiable facial opening.
"What's up, doc?", asks Wolfshead, unable to let the old cliché die a quiet death.
"The police tied me up all morning working in their crime lab. As the local medical Scab expert they call me in from time to time."
"So what's... spit the story this time, Doc?" , Lupe asks spitting another muzzle full of white wax onto the floor. Donnie leaves the bar and walks into the back. "Is it Invaders from Mars, Pelly...er, Polor...er, Polymorphic Radioactive Teenage Reptiles from the city sewer, honest politicians from Washington..."
"Nope, nothing so normal, Lupe. It seems our secret neighborhood protector has three sets of teeth. I've just spent the morning examining some idiot's posterior and a bunch of dental castings... and they don't match. Whoever is responsible for these assaults has three distinct sets of teeth. It simply doesn't make any sense!", he exclaims while simultaneously slurping down the disgustingly brown syrupy mixture.
"And why can't it be separate trained animals or even some wacko morphs attacking these lowlifes over the years?", asks Wanderer getting into the spirit of the conversation.
"Sure, I'll believe that. I'll believe that when you can tell me how three separate 'anythings' can run after a crack dealer doing Mach One in Hightops, and still manage to bite his rear all at the same time! That, I'd pay money to see!", the laughter coming from Dr. Derksen's voder would have made the late Vincent Price envious.
"So what the plan, Doc?", asks Wanderer while ordering something a little stronger from the returning barkeep.
"Me, I'm going home to get some more sleep. I suggest you all do the same and stay there. Anyone or anything even remotely toothy is going to get picked up by the police, or animal control for the next couple of days. Sometimes it pays to live behind a shell.", Dr. Derksen finishes his drink and exits the bar while repeatedly clicking some movable part of his face. No one cares to see what part.
"Well, that's great advice but not for me. I've got to go back to the theater and see if I still have a job for tonight's show. What would the play without the star?!", he dramatically downs his drink and twirling his cape exits the room.
Lapping the last of his drink, Lupe finishes his drink and starts to rise out of his chair, or at least he tries to, twice. With the potential bone crushing force of forklift, a massive hoofed hand had dropped onto his shoulder and pinned him to the chair. He stares in numb surprise at the hand and slowly traces the huge appendage with his muzzle to the even larger arm and shoulder attached to it.
Donnie's normally placid face is rigid with indignation. With militarily precise motions he reaches behind his back and drops a broom in his captive's lap. He then pulls up a chair and sits in front of the closed entrance while pointing at the mounds of white wax particles Lupe had spit all over his formerly spotless floor.
"Oh, give me a break, Donnie!", is all the Wolf morph can get out while Wolfshead howls at the ceiling and Josh tumbles out of his chair in laughter.
Scene Four: Hotel Hades, room 3A : 12pm
KNOCK "Hello, Ms. Reynolds. It's me, Frank, the day manager. Are you awake?
The heavy wood door is unlocked with a massive snapping sound of moving metal, the door swings open as far as the security chain will allow. A dark brown leathery nose sniffs the air and retreats back into the room.
"What do you want?", asks a shaky female child's voice followed by several moments of loud teeth gnashing.
"Nothing, Ms. Reynolds...er, Misty. I'm here to talk to you. Sorry, it took me awhile to get here, I was 'tied' up this morning with another guest. Will you please let me in?"
The door slowly closes and the chain rattles as it is removed, Frank hears small paws race away across the wooden floor. With equal slowness he opens the door to find chaos. Everything within the room had been piled into the center of the floor. A great pile of curtains, sheets and towels had been thrown over an entire roomful of furniture. Only the tip of a bushy tail pokes from under the pile.
"Not again!", thinks Frank to himself. "Not another warren maker!
In its own way the construction was quite spectacular. Every piece of furniture within the apartment had been shoved together and covered up. Even the heavy sofa had been piled on top of the living room chairs and tied together with the curtain ropes. How she could lift it all was beyond Franks comprehension.
"Will you please come out of there, Misty?", Frank asks while searching for something to sit down on, and failing to find anything he squats on the floor.
The tail disappears from Frank's view. With fearful jerky motions she reappears from behind the mound. She is obviously ready to flee back into her escape tunnel at his slightest motion.
"That's better, now come over and sit down, we've a lot to talk about.", Frank pats the floor next to him.
"Now isn't that better?", he says when she finally sits on her haunches just out of arm's reach. The little Squirrel Morph just nods her head rapidly and snaps her teeth together one time.
"Don't be shy, I won't hurt you. Now, do you know where you are?"
"I'm... I'm... in Hell where my mama said I belong!", she suddenly grabs her tail and begins to cry.
"And what gave you that idea, honey?", Frank replies while avoiding the impulse to touch the crying child.
"The taxi driver said he was taking me to Hotel Hades. He said... he said... that they sent all the bad fuzzy people like me here... forever! Mama use to read to me from the big black book every night, mama... mama said Hades is where God sends all the bad people to burn. And now I'm there...", her voice decays into a series of chirps and low whistles, very little human remains.
Frank just sits and contemplates how many ways he would like to murder a particular cab driver. He sits and watches the child crying herself into exhaustion. When the sobs and chirps diminish he starts talking again.
"No, beautiful. This isn't Hell, this is the Hotel Hadeson, and while I might look a little funny I'm not the Devil. You were sent here because Dr. Derksen said you needed a place to stay while he talked to your mother."
"Mama?... he knows were my mama is?", she questions desperately with tears falling down on both side of her muzzle. "I want my mama... I want my mama!", she cries while hugging her bushy tail as a poor substitute for the physical comfort her mother use to provide.
Frank raises and walks slowly towards the window, his long muzzled face reflects off the glass as if in a cheap mirror. Black on black eyes meet each other across the dirty glass, old memories and pain flash across the surface of his mind.
An empty house, the occupants days gone leaving someone behind... "Mommie? Daddie? Where are you?...where are you?..." Walls echoing with screeching screams of hunger and fear.
A city orphanage..."I'm sorry Frankie, nobody seems to want you..." Escape, empty buildings... alone, always alone in the dark.
A nighttime city street... "Look what I caught guys! Lets see what this little fucking mouse looks like without the fur..." Images of a shiny knife...scars carved deeply into body and soul.
A darkly lit alley... trash cans desperately emptied of anything edible... bright lights, discovery, capture... "Don't worry, son, I'm not going to hurt you. My name is Hadeson, I own this place. Would you like a hot meal and a place to stay?" An elderly human hand stretches to gently clasp a small pink paw.
A tall man in a blue suit, a silver badge reflecting red flames... "It's too bad, kid. We caught the men who threw the fire bomb, but your boss didn't make it. He got everyone out but the flames trapped him on the third floor. He saved all those people, he died a hero. Here... he dropped this little puppy from the window and it's hurt real bad. Do you want him?"
"Mister? Why are you crying?", a small paw reaches up and clasps a far larger one.
"It's nothing, precious. Something happened here a long time ago. Come on, let me take you downstairs to the kitchen. Mrs. Lawrence is waiting for us. You must be hungry, we'll talk later. OK?"
The door slams on the empty room, the calendar nailed to the door sways. The year 2025 is clearly visible. The passage of exactly fifteen years has weakened the smell of smoke to only a distant memory. The grief is a fresh as yesterday.
Scene Five: The interior of a stolen van: 5pm
"This if fucking great!", exclaims the mini van's driver to his partners sitting behind him. "All we've got to do is threaten these Scabs store owners with another 'Butch' and they cough up the dough!"
"Shut the Hell up, Kemo! You've made me lose count!", yells back the oldest passenger while trying to resume his money counting."
"Well, how much have we hauled in so far, Whitey?", asks the skinny kid sitting next to the frustrated counter.
"What the fucks wrong with you, Leech? Didn't you hear me tell Kemo to shut up? Don't fucking worry! Stick with me and you'll both get equal shares!"
"... five thousand sixty, five thousand seventy, five thousand eighty! Damned were on easy street now guys!", Whitey burst out after finishing his count. I told the posse back home it was a mistake to cut Butch loose. These weird fucks are easy to scam."
"Yah, Whitey, but the cops must be onto us by now!", Kemo yells from the front. "We had to rough that last bird guy up before he'd pay!"
"So what? Don't tell me it wasn't fun breaking his wing!", laughs Leech.
"Kemo's right! It's time to go back home, Leech. I'm sick of this place, so many freaking Scabs in one place turns my stomach! Once we ditch the van and get back on home turf we'll be home free."
"So, what's keeping us here, Whitey?", asks Leech while day dreaming of all the coke his share would buy him.
"We've got one last 'client' to meet tonight guys.", Whitey says with cold deliberation.
"Where to, Whitey?", Kemo asks while looking for street signs as he drives through the decaying neighborhood.
"Leech, where did that pusher you scored from say they took the rabbit?"
"Some flop house called Hotel Hades or some such shit name, Whitey."
"Right, Hotel Hades. That fuzzy fucker helped off a Blood, we can't have that now, can we guys?"
"NO FUCKING WAY!! BLOODS FOREVER!!" the others yell into the growing twilight surrounding the van.
"Well, boys, lets go raise some hell!"
Scene Six: Hotel Hades, Service Desk: 6 PM.
"Hey, Frank, you had a phone call!", Tom yells across the empty lobby.
"What now?", Frank asks getting out of the elevator after doing his hourly floor check.
"Lee Tie called. He got dragged into the 'Save the Spotted Owl' environmental protest at the civic center by his kids. He won't be able to get here until at least 1am to relieve you."
"That's just peachy, Tom."
"But you won't believe this. His daughter sprayed him with brown food dye and they have him sitting on a fake tree doing owl impersonations! Ever few minutes he has to stand up and wave his arms and go 'WHOOOOO's going to save the forest!" We should be able to razz him for months about this one. The two friends begin to laugh.
"Your right, Tommy boy. This opportunity is worth a few hours, I didn't have any plans for tonight anyway. I'm always a little depressed on this night."
"Frank, you've got to over this, it's not healthy.", Tom says with deep concern leaking into his voice. Its been fifteen years since Mr. HH died. It wasn't your fault."
"How can you say that?! You weren't there! If I'd come to work only a few minutes earlier, I might have been able to stop those bastards!"
"Yah, you might, and you might have died too!"
"But that's not what bothers me, Tom. After all he did for me, after all the love he gave me I was never able to say goodbye to him. He did everything for me and I could never even say thank you and goodbye...", Frank fades into silence.
"He knew, Frank, I'm sure he knew how you felt. Now why don't you go in the office and get a bit of sleep, I'll stay here. It's going to be a long day for you."
"Thanks, Tom, your a great guy for a hooman."
"Ah... get the hell out of here and go crawl behind a wall or something!"
Scene Seven: Hotel Hades, rear parking lot: 11 PM
Parking the van behind the building, the trio scans the dimly lit parking lot for any other occupied vehicles or pedestrian traffic. Finding none they exit the vehicle and begin talking in low tones. They never notice the old dog resting in the shadows behind a large trash dumpster.
"OK, lets do this plain and simple", orders Whitey. "Kemo, you go inside first and make like you want a room. Check out the security and staff and come back here."
"You got it, Whitey!", Kemo replies and starts walking around to the front of the building.
"Did you get the new masks, Leech?"
"Sure thing, Luther!", he answers and reaches into the van and removes a large paper bag.
"Didn't I tell you never to use my real name, asshole?!" He hits Leech a hard blow to the shoulder. "I'm 'Whitey' now and forever. Now, give me that fucking bag!"
What he sees inside of the bag is far from what he'd expected.
"What's the shits this for, moron? I told you to get some plain black ski hoods, not some lame costume party junk."
"But, Luth...er, Whitey, all the stores in the mall were closing. I got these real cheap from a little novelty shop that was still open. The old bag running the place said these mask were perfect for us. See, take a look..."
What Leech removes from the bag was indeed unique and beautiful. Inside the shopping bag rested three full animal-head masks of the highest quality. Masks suitable for the most discriminating costume wearer. The first and second masks to be removed were elegant examples of canine perfection; a tan furred Pit Bull Terrier and a vicious looking Doberman Pincher. But the last was beyond compare.
The mask in Leeches hands was almost alive in its beauty, a glaring white furred Albino Lapine head. With glowing pink glass eyes it stared back at them. Not a single strand of the silky hair seemed to be out of place, the ears stood straight and proud despite the rough handling.
"Give me that!", Whitey demands and turns the mask in every direction looking for a price tag. "This fucking thing is expensive like shit! There's no way you could have gotten it with the twenty bucks I gave you!"
"Honest, the old Greek broad said she was closing the shop and retiring."
"You stupid idiot, these masks are too ...", whatever Whitey was going to say was cut short by Kemo's return.
"It's a perfect setup, Whitey! There's only a single guy in the front and I didn't see a single alarm."
"OK, shut up, I've got to think! Right... it does down like this. You and Leech put on these dumb masks and enter by that service door over there." He points towards an old metal door a child could force open.
"And where you going, Whitey?", asks Leech.
"I'm going to walk into the front door and get the drop on the clerk.", He responds while stuffing the rabbit mask over his head. You guys come in through that door in five minutes and back me up. I can't wait to shoot that fuzzy animal bastard that helped kill Butch!"
He walks rapidly around the corner and out of sight. His fellow gang members don their masks and check their guns. Neither one sees the old dog leave the darkness behind the trash container, nor do they see the other two shadows converging on that of the dog's as it limps towards them. It wouldn't have done them any good anyway, their fate had already been sealed.
Scene Eight: Hotel Hades, main service desk: 11:00 PM
"Good evening, Sir. How may I help you?", asks Tom of the young man entering the hotel lobby. "Interesting mask you got there." Night clerks at Hotel Hades are familiar with far stranger sights than this scrawny kid.
"Do you like it? I'm looking for a friend of mine who looks just like it. I'm kind of wearing it to surprise him. I was told he's staying here, so I've come to visit."
"Well, you've come to the right place. He's upstairs on the third floor. Just give me your name and I'll see if he wants to come down."
"Ah... Ah... my name is...", Whitey begins to say, but is interrupted by the sounds of a dog barking and human screams. Gunshot blasts and an earthquake-like vibration from somewhere below rattles the metal door behind the clerk."
"What's going on out there, Tom?", Frank asks rubbing the sleep from his eyes while opening the office door.
The gunshots and earthquake Whitey could handle, but a six foot tall rat man is too much. He draws his gun and starts to fire, everything and anything behind the desk is his target. Frank is the first to go down with a bullet to the chest, Tom drops to the floor while a hail of bullets destroys the telephone switchboard behind him. Whitey yells in mindless frustration as his weapon clicks on empty and runs out of the hotel.
"Frank?...Frank?...FRANK! Can you hear me? Please speak to me, buddy." , Tom screams while crawling over the rubble on the floor.
"I'm OK, Tommy.", Frank finally replies and opens his eyes to see his friend bending over him. "The bullet just cut along my ribs and it stings like mad! Go to the office and get me something clean to hold against the cut."
"What should I do now?", Tom asks returning with one of Frank's clean white shirts. "That bastard blew up the entire phone system, there isn't a working phone in the whole building!"
"I'm fine, just a little woozy. Run down to the Blind Pig Bar and let them know what happened. They'll send help... now go!"
"Don't move, I'll be right back!", Tom yells while racing through the door.
Scene Nine: The Blind Pig: 11:10 PM
The birthday party had been going on for hours and still had a lot more steam left. The birthday boy, Jack de Mule, had abandoned the piano to bob for apples in his full morphic form. Only it wasn't water they were floating in.
"Hey, Jack, leave some beer for us!" is the general outcry. He finally comes up for air looking bleary eyed and mad dog rabid. The belch coming from his foam covered muzzle rattles the bottles behind the bar.
Copernicus is slowly stalking Splendor around the room trying to get a midnight kiss. He can't seem to figure out how she always seems to know where he is. The fact that his scales are day-glow red and orange with excitement never crosses his alcohol pickled brain.
All in all, a normal night.
The Lupine trio is sitting at their usual table. Even Josh is dressed up in what they each laughably thinks could pass for a disguise.
"...and I can darn too hold my liquor!", Josh exclaims while lapping the last dregs of a scotch and soda from the bottom of his bowl."
"So why are you wearing an Hawaiian shirt?", questions Wolfshead blinking his smarting eyes behind the 'An American Werewolf in London' mask he's wearing.
"That easy.", retorts Josh via his voder. No self-respecting dog catcher would even think of turning me over to the pound or the cops while I'm wearing this thing.
Lupe is the silent one again. He's just chewing away like mad on a muzzle full of dental wax while watching the party. He'd deliberately had himself picked by the police again earlier in the afternoon just to get some more. The crime lab threatened to make him pay for it if he showed up again. He's wearing a white leather jacket with a snarling wolf's head drooling blood sown on the back, and a Disneyland Pluto the Dog cap on his head.
The door swings open and Wanderer spins into the room. Under his cape he's still wearing the Sherlock Holmes costume from his theater's group remake of the 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'.
"Well, that was a fantastic grand opening! And, I must say, I was marvelous!"
"Let me guess, Wanderer. They only booed you half as much as last time?!", chuckles Wolfshead. The trio howls in laughter as Wanderer walks to the bar in stiff legged fake outrage.
"And what would you three rejects from an canine obeisance school know about the theater?", Wanderer intones with a Shakespearean accent so false even the trio can tell it's wrong.
Before any other Lupine Boys can finish laughing the door swings open with a loud crash.
"Help...you must help me! Call the police... call an ambulance... there's been a shooting at the Hotel!", Tom screams staggering into the room.
There is no need for words, there is no time for questions, in just seconds the entire pack of Lupine Boys vanishes through the door into the darkness. Donnie hasn't even had the time to finish dialing the phone before they're gone.
Scene Ten: Hotel Hades, rear parking lot: 11:20 PM
Whitey runs around the corner and almost into the side of the stolen van. The vehicle has been driven backwards into the side of the building. It is standing with its engine running and doors wide open. His fellow gang members are nowhere to be seen. On the moon lit blacktop he finds only torn clothing and empty weapons, nothing more.
"Leech? Kemo? Where are you fuckers? Get out here right now! We're leaving!", he screams into the darkness. Running into the van he turns on the head lights and grabs another gun from the glove compartment. As the powerful beams cut across the blacktop he sees a moving shadow rise from the ground and stagger towards him. A large dog practically drags itself into the beams, it has obviously been shot several times and is leaving a puddle of blood behind it.
Why would those jerks give themselves away by shooting a stupid dog?, Whitey asks himself. That bag of bones couldn't hurt a flea. Now, that's strange...
The dying dog's clouded eyes reflect the beams back but weakly. With a smoke damaged throat it began to bark. Once... twice... the animal painfully lets loose a strange unearthly bark that echoes across the darkened parking lot. A duo of barks that is answered by two moving shadows.
Like a cool smothering blanket of darkness the two shadows converge on the dog and meld with it. Whitey is riveted to his chair as two more sets of eyes suddenly peer out of the darkness and look at him through the windshield. He can feel something these three sets of eyes dig deep into the blackness within him, the blackness of soul that is Whitey. The glowing eyes have judged him. The trial is over, there will be no appeal.
"AAAAHHHH! Someone help me! I'm on fire!", Whitey screams falling out of the open door. Every inch of his skin feels as if it had been seared with liquid metal. Tearing off his clothing brings him only momentary relief as long white hairs erupt and cover his shrinking frame. The mask twists and turns about his head, hearing and sight disappear and the pain intensifies. He can feel the bones of his head bend and shift to match the contours of the shrinking mask. With fast numbing fingers he tries to yank the mask off, the short claws on his shriveling fingers almost tearing out the eyes on the sides of his head.
"Help me, someone! Please help me!", he screams as wave after wave of pain wracks his body and he rolls on the ground. He feels his limbs twist and break into new configurations, every new muscle and bone sends its own message of searing agony to his changing brain. An unforgettable feeling of something wrong is sent by each and every new appendage.
Suddenly, after an eternity that lasted but minutes, it is over. The pain subsides and the feeling of inalterable change shudders through his mind and body. Within the beams of the stolen van a little white rabbit attempts to stand on two legs and fails, the horror of the change beginning to sink into a human soul trapped within a nearly primal brain. Pure animal fear freezes him to the spot as the dimly seen shadow with six eyes turns and leaves.
The judgment is over, only the final sentence remains.
Out of the darkness two large animals race silently towards the trembling rabbit. Whitey has but a moment to view the slavering jaws of the two large dogs emerging from the shadows. In a final flash recognition his eyes meet with those of a hungry Terrier and Doberman.
The nighttime silence is torn by the death cry of a terrified rabbit.
Scene Eleven: Hotel Hades, lobby: 11:40 PM
The racing Lupine Boys reach the hotel in minutes. Entering the lobby, Wanderer is the first to see the rodent morph clerk lying on the floor with a bloody white pad pressed to his side.
"You OK, my friend?", he asks bending over the prone figure.
"I'm just ducky! Where's Tom? I seem to remember he was here just a second ago..."
"He's fine, don't worry about him."
"Lupe, bring that chair and raise his feet! Josh go into the office and drag that blanket off the bed! Wolfshead look for a first aid kit! Don't let anyone leave or enter the building." , Wanderer fires off orders in rapid succession. The other pack members never think of questioning an Alpha male in a stressful situation, for them it really is unthinkable.
"Is he going make it, Wanderer?", Josh asks while sniffing the semiconscious rodent morph in search of some instinctive canine olfactory diagnosis.
"I think so, Josh. It doesn't look very serious. The ambulance and the police should be here any second. it's almost midnight, I doubt if anyone's going to be up and about at this hour. You stay here and keep an eye on him."
"You two come with me, lets walk around a bit, something doesn't feel right.", Wanderer walks outside followed by the rest of his pack, the hunt is on.
Walking rapidly Wanderer begins to circle the building, his senses soon detect the smell of blood and gun smoke.
"Shoo, get lost you stupid mutts!", Wanderer yells at a pair of dogs fighting over some type of animal remains. The dogs run off, each carries in its muzzle an equal share of the spoils of their kill.
"What were they eating, Wanderer?", Lupe asks kneeling over a few strips of white fur sticking in a small pool of blood.
"Smells like rabbit to me. But who cares? Lupe shut off that van's engine, but leave the lights on. Everyone, look for clues, there might be someone else out here."
"Wanderer, over here. Look what I found!", Wolfshead yells from around the corner.
He points to a trail of blood droplets leading from the parking lot to an open wooden door, bloody dog paw prints are smeared on the door's white paint.
"What's down there, Wan?", Lupe asks while trying to read the pealing sign nailed to the door. "What's a 'Coal Storage Depository?'
"It's like a special basement, Lupe. This building must have been heated with coal a long time ago. I doubt if the old furnace is even down there anymore."
Suddenly an ear splitting howl blasts through the open door. Every bit of fur on the trio stands up.
"Man, what the hell was that?!", Wolfshead whispers while backing away from the door and obviously planning to run from the scene. A single glance from Wanderer has him returning with head held low.
"Damn if I know. Where are those police?", Wanderer asks as even more canine howls echo from far below. "Come on, we can't wait. Someone else could be in trouble down there. The shooter must be long gone by now."
Wanderer pushes the door open to discover a long flight of wooden stairs going down. The gloom is broken only by a series of small light bulbs. In their dim light he can see that the blood trail leads straight down. The howls continue every few second, but they seemed to be weakening.
"Wolfshead, what time is it?", Wanderer asks.
"It's just about midnight, Wan."
"OK, we can't wait any longer for the police. I'll go first, you guys follow. Keep your eyes open."
No sooner than the words leave his mouth the door slaps open behind them, the injured hotel clerk stands unsteadily within the door frame. Josh runs between his legs and stops in front of Wanderer.
"I'm sorry, Wanderer. I couldn't stop him, he wouldn't listen to me!"
Just then even more ear splitting howls accent from the darkness.
"King, it that you King?!", Frank yells down the stairs. "That must be King barking down there, he must be hurt. He never barks. Please, get out of the way, I must get down there!"
"OK, follow us but keep out of the way, there's no telling what's going on down there. Josh, you stay here and bring the police when they show up."
Within moments the group reaches the bottom. They walk up a short brick lined corridor that ends in large underground room, at its center stands an ancient coal fired boiler. Smokeless flames leap outwards from the boiler's open steel door, within these flames King stands and barks... and he is not alone.
Two shadows waver in the garish light shielding the dog from the flames. To one side crouches a human figure bent in pain, its arms folded over the dog's head and shoulders. To the other side, a enormous canine shadow leans supporting the weakening King. Both turn their featureless heads as Frank calls out.
"Mr. Hadeson, it that you?!"
The human figure slowly stands and waves to the group, desperation clearly showing in its body language as it turns back to the silently roaring flames. The huge canine only turns its regal head and stares at the trio for a brief moment. There's no need for introductions, recognition is instantaneous. Staring at them is the shadow of the first wolf to share the warmth of a fire with humankind. The first lupine to intertwine forever the future of its race with a creature called... man.
The call for aid is clear to all of those present.
"Ah... Wanderer. Yo... Wan. What's that?", Lupe asks in wide mouth wonder while pulling urgently on Wanderer's cape.
Wanderer tears his eyes to follow Lupe's pointing finger, as one the rest of the group does the same.
"What the...", is all anyone can get out of their mouths.
On the far wall a huge shadow stands unwavering in the dancing light. King's shadow had joined seamlessly with that of the two shadows by his sides to form an even greater darkness. Wanderer with his classical theater background is the first to recognize its nature.
"Holy... that's Cerberus!"
Projected onto the far wall stands the legendary dog from Hell. Created by the combined shadows of King and his two protectors, three enormous canine heads howl and bark silently at the leaping flames and looming figure that seeks to escape into this world. Three pairs of glowing eyes that dare all of creation to pass. Eyes that dim as King collapses to the floor.
"King, I'm coming!", Frank screams as the dog's shadowy companions fade to mere wisps. "Don't worry, boy. I'll take care of you.", he says while holding the dying animal in his arms."
With the weight of a feather a shadow hand clasps his, a gentle voice weary with age whispers into his mind. The burden of knowledge is passed from one soul to another.
"... yes, I missed you too, Mr. Hadeson.", he whispers in a conversation only he can hear. Yes, I understand... thank you for coming back, I'll always remember you...you'll always be a hero to me... goodbye"
"What's happening?", Wanderer asks as he and the other Lupine Boys arrive at a run. "Lets get out of here!"
"No, we can't leave just yet.", Franks states emphatically. "We were brought here for a reason." He stands and points towards the growing flames.
"Let the police handle that! What can we do against that thing?"
In a tired voice, Frank repeats what he was told. Wanderer's reply is instantaneous and understandable.
"You can't be serious! There's no way I'm going to do that! That's the most insulting thing anyone has ever told me to do. I'm a Scab, not an animal!"
With a final shudder, King dies at Frank's feet. All the shadows fade from existence as the flames turn from a cold light into a vast blast furnace of real heat. The ancient coal boiler's steel walls begins to flow like water, the silence is broken by sounds of human torment rising in an endless wail. Something begins to step from the flames. The guardian has died, the gateway to Hell is unguarded.
The bleeding clerk shields his eyes and points at King's body. "That animal lived his life and died protecting others. Does that make him more human than you? Or is that all you are... a Scab?
"Wolfshead! Lupe! Follow my lead!", Wanderer screams in reply. "We've got a job to do!"
Wanderer walks until he's only a short distance from the gaping flames and motions the others stand beside him. He begins to do something he had promised himself he would never do. He, followed shortly by his two companions, begin to do something all Canine Morphs promise never to do.
He begins to bark.
With his two companions by his side he begins to bark at the flames and the emerging figure within the glare. No words, no flowery oratory, no poetry or fancy prose leaves his muzzle. Just the barking sounds of a noble canine standing in the way of anything that would harm those it would die to defend.
Straining forwards, shoulder by shoulder, the trio barks and howls for an seeming eternity. In each mind flows the memories of a lifetime, all the pain and joy is condensed into a single stream of unrelenting sound. Slowly, reluctantly, the flames retreat and vanish. Whatever stood in the flames disappears with a final scream of eternal hatred towards all that lives.
"It's over.", Frank says gently picking up King's lifeless body.
Wanderer's reply requires no words. He only raises both arms and slowly takes the cooling body from Frank's grasp. With slow steps he tenderly cradles the body as they climb out of the darkness.
Scene Twelve: Hotel Hades, lobby: 9AM
"What are you doing here, Frank?", Tom asks disapprovingly. "The doctor said you'd need a couple of weeks for that cracked rib to set."
"Don't go on the war path, Tom. I'm only here to pick up my stuff from the storage locker. Do me a favor, go down there and put my clothing in the suitcase inside. I'll stay here and cover for you until you get back."
"OK, I'll be back in a couple of minutes."
Frank occupies his time by sorting the mail in the managers office while waiting for Tom to return.
"Bill... bill... reservation... bill...OUCH!"
A sudden sharp pain in his ankle makes him yell out loud. With head held high he makes a promise to the ceiling.
"If it's that snake kid from upstairs again, I'm going to make a belt out of him!"
Looking down he see something far different that what he'd expected. A tiny and very hungry bundle of fur is chewing merrily on his ankle. Frank picks up the fuzz ball and finds a tiny newborn replica of King.
"And where the hell did you come from?", Franks asks muzzle to muzzle with the tiny terror trying to bite his nose. "Could it be? Yes, you look just like him. That King must have had one last fling left in him! Come, lets go down stairs and get you some milk.
Cradling the whining bundle of black fur he closes the door and heads off in the direction of the kitchen. The old door slams behind him. The ancient sign on the door still shows the name of former occupant of that office:
Owner and General Manager
Epilogue: Sometime later that evening:
The bent old figure enters the hotel lobby from the darkened street, the bird morph clerk takes no notice of his passage. Using a special key the elevator raises to the building's uppermost floors. With slow steps the cloaked figure walks down the central corridor. To either side doorways stretch along to distances far greater that would be possible in any other building. The names on the doors to either side are those of myth and fable, names that once made the world tremble in fear and awe. Names which today are mostly forgotten or ridiculed as fiction. The black clad figure stops at a door like any other and gently knocks.
"Who's there?", replies a female voice crackling with extreme age. The door swings wide showing an ancient female figure. The years have been unable to erase the beauty that was once there.
"It's me, I need a place to relax for a while. You wouldn't believe what I've just been through at the shop. Those damned Men In Black..."
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