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A Sinister Tune
Last Whiteman Chapter 8
Three-Finger Schwartz was aptly name. He just had three fingers on the left hand, a tell-tale sign that one was of the Indiana Amish Colony of the very same name. Not all of them had three-fingers on the left hand but enough. His bearing of the clan mark made up for the bitter pill of his birth, the reason for his father Jacob often turning a pained shoulder away from him.
Ellawise Schwartz had walked to market, to the English market, the children helping her mother in the kitchen or her husband in the field, one day 21 years ago. She had gone for cloth with an empty basket. She returned, however, with neither cloth or basket, and Three-Finger Schwartz—more aptly named than the rest of his clan due to his pseudo-African complexion—savagely planted in her womb.
His Mother's People had been good to him. But to have the only man he had ever addressed as father wince at his mongrel face, finally came too be too much to bear. So Three-Finger Schwartz had become a Tweansman at 16, a fellow with connections to His Mother's People and with the English World. He could safely travel among the English—who were now mostly their former slaves of ancient times risen in their master's arrogant stead—and not be slain out of ancient hate, or set upon to hold municipal office or to work in the trades for no pay. The ancient debt owed to their former slaves by the English was often heavily levied upon His Mother's People when they were caught alone or outnumbered away from home.
The end of this chilly April, Three-Finger had devoted to a journey to Baltimore, worst of the ruined English cities. He had come here to discover the whereabouts of five girls and a boy abducted from the Lancaster Pennsylvania Colony by Bloody April, a black motorcycle gang based in Baltimore.
He had not been able to discover a thing, save that he was on the wrong side of town. Officer Blatz, the commander of the Hamilton Precinct, which was the furthest point of the savage city he had been able to penetrate, had arrested him on vagrancy charges. During questioning, the police robot had discovered that Three-Finger had participated as a roofer in the raising of numerous houses and that he was a journeyman carpenter. Thus was his fate decided. The Police Hostel, once a great Presbyterian Church, had roofs aplenty in ill-repair. Somehow, the work Three-Finger had done each of his five-day stay, had been calculated by the remote judge in some office building speaking through a TV watch, as exactly enough to cover the cost of his lodging and food.
Three-Finger decided that he was blessed to have been born among the Amish, for the single reason that he was not cursed with wearing one of these infernal TV watches, a thing on your wrist used to spy on you and dictate your life.
Worse, Officer Blatz had taken the pictures, names and affidavits of family concerning the missing youths and placed them in an electronic evidence box. Three-Finger had gathered his courage, chastised himself for a fool for trusting the police and demanded release, before the towering monster of a machine.
The eye slot of Officer Blatz did not glower red like it had when he was originally arrested and detained, or when the missing persons documents had been found. It did not shine yellow, as it had when the Police Commander had discovered that Three-Finger was an able roofer, come complete with his tool belt and trusty claw hammer, which he would never travel without, both for means of making wages and for defense on the road. But on this occasion of his demand, surprisingly, the long slot-like eye glowed a friendly green and the emotionless voice of the brawny steel computer serving as the ideal police officer, said: “Apologies for having detained you, Visitor Schwartz. You shall sleep in the Rectory room tonight and shall be free to leave the Hostel in the morning.”
“Thank you, Officer. May I also take the missing persons papers with me?”
The machine's steel head rotated slightly and the eye shone yellow as it said, “Negative. Police Evidence must remain secure. Baltimore Corporation would like to extend our sincere gratitude for providing us with valuable material for our ongoing investigation.”
With that Officer Blatz exited the common room, formerly the great hall of the church, where the other “Guests” were seated for the evening meal, strode up the marble steps past the pulpit [repurposed for roll call conducted by the officer on duty in the common room] and spoke to the human police officer upon the raised dais. Doing so the robot pointed to Three-Finger Schwartz and to a tall stranger apparently just in out of the wild. The robot then exited through the broad north door without a sound, despite his bulk of machinery.
The room was a place of interest to Three-Finger Schwartz. The pews had been used to make a heavy common table that ran for sixty feet and for bench seating, giving the room the appearance of an ancient Nordic mead-hall—and every bit as post-Christian as the reference was pre-Christian. The remaining pews lined the walls facing outward to form semi-private bunks for the guests.
There were currently only seven guests:
-Three-Finger with his coat, straw hat, tool-belt and bedroll.
-A stinking Mexican drunk who seemed a permanent resident, and dressed in rags, although he had a fine derby hat.
-A Hindu Yogi in shimmering blue robes who did not share meals and spent his time meditating at the end of the bench at the head of the table near the dais.
-A Filipino laborer who seemed to be perpetually employed working off his room and meals and did all of the cleaning.
-A black cook, who likewise, took care of the meals for what appeared to be a permanent berth as a guest.
-A Vietnamese tinker, whose bunk was half occupied by his used electrical wares which he had repurposed into manual versions of their former grace, such as clocks, can openers, obsolete watches and radios now powered by a hand crank.
-The dark stranger, tall, broad, dressed all in black and armed. To this the human policeman said, “Visitor, One cannot go armed in a Police Hostel. You must turn in your weapons.”
The man stood at the far end of the table and glared at the police man. The human in uniform, then looked longingly at the north door where Officer Blatz had just exited, and his authority was lost in that instant as the cook blurted, as he served up stew and bread, “Ain' happenin' in dis lifetime Offica' Smitty. Soups on—en I'm sure da Hinterlanda en da poleese can put aside dey concerns fo some Hangdog Fricasse! Kilt dis mangy mothachucka my own self while it worried the chickens in da pen.”
The human policeman recovered after a fashion, “If you don't mind, and since you are armed, might you bar the front door? It doesn't have an auto-lock and the rest of the squad is looking into some mess of a gang fight down the street.”
The stranger strode to the door, set the heavy steel bar across the two ancient double doors, their red paint almost entirely washed away by time. With the moonlight glinting through the ancient stained class windows and the cresset above the table smoldering orange, the lanterns on the dais whimpering a weak yellow, the men fell to their meal while the big old cook paced around them, refilling bowls from his steaming pot, breaking and passing bread and asking for compliments, even inquiring as to whether or not he should have named the cur who made their meal before clubbing it with his cast iron frying pan.
Officer Smitty dined with the rest and the cook soothed, “Don' you all worry about ole Joe Green here, he been sippin' and nibblin' all day long—y'all juz ged yo feed on!”
Three-Finger was quite pleased with his portion and smiled between spoonfuls, “Mister Green, this is the best dog I have ever eaten.”
The Vietnamese tinker seconded him, “Betta den Saigon!”
“Tank ya Red,” Mister Green said to Three-Finger, indicating his curly red hair and beard, “if you don' mind, you given name bein' a bit harsh on da tongue.”
Officer Smitty and the Hinterlander looked at each other through the entire meal, from opposite ends of the long table, every soul there—most notably the Yogi—knowing that if it came to blows with fists or weapons that the policeman was out of his depth. Officer Smitty was big and burly, nearly pale of hue and spoke like a bully. But his lack of confidence when alone shone fully through his worn and out-of-date blue uniform and his big, worried green eyes.
When the meal was over, Officer Smitty rose and said, “To bunks. I'm at the pulpit 'til midnight. Three-Finger, No-Name, you are officially released from police custody when I bar the inner door to the Rectory behind you. You will be free to leave through the outer door at first light. We do not recommend leaving before daybreak.”
They passed into the two-bunk rectory, an 8-foot wide 16-foot long room, bare but for two pews, an outer door, and a barred slot window that admitted just a glimmer of moonlight.
“Goodnight, and Baltimore Corporation thanks you for your cooperation,” said Officer Smitty right before he slammed the door shut and shot the two heavy bolts.
“This dose not feel right,” opined Three-Finger in a tense whisper.
A spark caught and lit, and it was a match, a long stick match in the sap-gloved hand of the stranger. He handed that lit match and a second to Three-Finger and indicated with a come-along hand that he was to illuminate the cell for the man as he searched. Search he did, finding nothing out of the ordinary.
As the second match guttered out, the man hissed, “Shhh,” and opened the outer door, a heavy wooden steel-banded affair, by sliding the bolt back and pulling it in. The moonlight now illuminated the inward swung door as the man inspected it. Soon what appeared to be a flattened rivet on the outside of the door, exactly at the same level of the inner bolt, was found to slide-out and back along a central groove for a few inches, just enough to open the door from the outside.
The man gave a savage grin and Three-Finger whispered, “We must flee. This is a trap!”
The man shook his head, “No,” pulled and bolted the door, lit another match, handed it to Three-Finger, and while the startled tweansman illuminated the scene but slightly, drew an automatic handgun, checked that it worked, dropped the magazine, assured himself it was loaded, placed it back in the pistol butt, engaged the slide, and smiled grimly as he rocked the handgun back in his right hand and drew a large blood-stained knife with his left hand and retired to the near pew, suggesting Three-Finger take the other, further from the door.
The match died and darkness fell, and rather than unroll his bedroll, Three-Finger aped his cellmate, hefting his claw hammer in his right hand and placing his broad-headed screwdriver in the other.
There they reclined in the moon-streaked dark, gradually coming into focus as recumbent shadows, upon long unhallowed church pews, waiting for what the night nefarious would bring.
As the gloom began to feel like a shield and his hammer a sword, Three-Finger Schwartz experienced a thrill he had not expected, a contentment, that he was on the side of right, in a world teaming with wrong and that so long as he remained strong, God would see him through that terrible night.
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