Arnold met Jim on Avenue C and East 6th Street to take him to the meeting of the Righteous Avengers. He kept glancing at Jim from the corner of his eye, convincing himself that Jim's friends were even scarier than Earl and Jamel. When they got to the building, Arnold started to lead Jim downstairs to the basement, but Jim stopped when he heard the blaring German marching music.
"Are these guys neo-nazis?" Jim asked.
"No," Arnold replied nervously. "They're way out there somewhere, but they're not nazis ... We've got to hurry. I'm already late and I don't want to draw too much attention to us."
They paused in the doorway to listen to Earl, who was walking back and forth, gesturing extravagantly.
"My fellow warriors. I'm pleased to tell you that we're getting great publicity from our former member's resignation."
"The first useful thing he did for us," Jamel said ironically, and they all laughed.
"Our plan for the degenerate Gay Health Alliance is moving along nicely. Brother Jamel will bring you up to date."
"Thank you, brother Earl. The special package is almost ready for those fags. Brother Arnold and Brother Stan can deliver it tomorrow."
Everybody applauded and Earl looked up and saw Arnold and Jim come in.
"You're late, brother Arnold," Earl snapped.
"I'm sorry, brother Earl."
"Who's that with you?"
"I brought a friend."
"You told us you had no friends," Jamel reminded him.
"Well, he's not really a friend. He's someone I know from the neighborhood bar."
"Why'd you bring him?" Earl demanded.
"I heard him talking to some people in the bar and I thought he might fit in with our group."
"He looks like a cop to me," Jamel muttered. "You a cop?" he belligerently asked Jim.
"No. I'm a social worker."
"Where do you work?" Jamel asked.
"I work for the city."
"Why you want to join us?" Jamel demanded suspiciously.
"Arnold told me you were a patriotic organization that was anti-gay."
"What else he tell you?"
"That's about it. He invited me to come to a meeting and get acquainted."
"Brother Earl," Stan interrupted, "there's a news report on television about the gay murder." He went to the TV and turned up the volume.
Everyone looked at the announcer on the screen, who said in a mellifluous voice: "I repeat this late breaking news bulletin. The police have announced that they have two witnesses, Kenneth Wister and Bruce Houton, who have agreed to cooperate in the investigation and help identify the suspects. Tune in to the 11:00 news for more on this story."
Stan turned the volume down, then Earl asked, "Do you think they really saw anything?"
"No," Stan replied, not wanting to be found guilty of a stupid mistake that might lead back to the Righteous Avengers. "He's just a gay lover."
"I think you all know where our sympathy lies. But let's not discuss it in front of newcomers."
"I don't want to be a problem," Jim said, "so I'll get going. Can I come back another time?"
"How about the day after tomorrow?" Earl offered. "We can discuss your joining us."
"That's fine with me. See you then." Jim got up and went out the door.
"Something suspicious about that boy," Jamel murmured. "Where'd you meet him, Arnold?"
"I know him from my neighborhood bar. We talked in the coffee shop where I have breakfast. He seemed to dislike gays, so I brought him for you to check out."
"We'll deal with him later," Earl said dismissively. "Now we've got to take care of those two witnesses, before they make trouble for us." He turned to Jamel. "Can we send your package to them?"
"Tonight, if you like."
"I like. Arnold, get their address. You and Stan are going to visit them tonight."
"I can't do that," Arnold protested.
"You can take care of them," Earl said with a wolfish smile, "or go visit Dexter."
"What do you mean?"
"Another dead gay could always be discovered," Jamel suggested.
"I'll do it," Arnold blurted.
"I thought you would," Jamel said smugly.
Marlene was comfortably reclining on the white leather couch, talking on her cell phone with Eli. She was wearing a dark red, form-fitting jumpsuit that clung to her body, deliberately selected for her expected guest. Sensual tango music was softly playing.
"I expect him soon, Eli ... Yes. We can do it as long as he has the address. Does Jacob have the assault team on standby? ... Good ... No. I won't tell Jim the attack plan ... I trust him. He just doesn't need to know ... Why thank you, Eli. I appreciate your confidence in me. Hold on, Eli." She got up and went to the intercom and pressed the speak button. "Yes George?"
"Mr. Delaney is here."
"Thank you, George. Please send him up." She lifted her cell phone. "Eli? He's here. I'll call you as soon as I can."
The door buzzer sounded and Marlene turned up the music, opened the door and let Jim in. Before he could say anything, she kissed him passionately, which instantly aroused him.
"Wow! That's quite a greeting. You must be glad to see me."
Marlene licked her lips. "And taste you."
"You are a sensualist."
"I have strong appetites. But come in," she said throatily, leading him to the couch. "Tell me what has happened."
"You just kissed me like a wild woman. How about one more?"
She smacked his hand playfully. "You greedy boy. Just be patient and you'll get a special treat."
Jim looked unhappy for a moment, but Marlene ran her fingernails over his thighs and he jumped, then reached for her. She held up her hand commandingly. "Later!... Did you get the address?"
"You can be a real iceberg," he muttered sulkily.
"Just sometimes," she replied airily. "Now tell me."
"Yes. It's 647$frac12; East 6th Street."
"Yeah. I know it sounds odd. It must be because they're in the basement."
"Well done. Did you have any trouble?"
"Not really. Arnold was a real scaredy cat and no problem at all. Their headquarters is a filthy hole, full of weirdos. The walls are covered with nazi swastikas and anti-gay posters. One of them was real sick: 'Thank god for AIDS.' Arnold was terrified of them, but introduced me. They wouldn't talk in front of me, and when they heard a TV broadcast announcing there were witnesses to the gay murder, they hustled me out."
"Were they suspicious of you?"
"I don't think so."
"How many of them were there?"
"About a dozen. They seemed to have two leaders. A white guy named Earl and a black guy named Jamel."
"We'll make sure to visit them."
"Are you really going to kill them?"
"Yes. I wouldn't joke about it."
"I don't know if I can go along with that."
"Let's talk about it later."
She sprang on him, sexually assaulting him, which enthralled him and made him wild. At the height of his excitement, Marlene clasped him tightly and bit him on the neck. They both experienced a feeling of passionate rapture. He fell asleep and a minute later she carefully licked the tiny drops of blood from his neck, as he moaned in his sleep. Marlene stroked his neck lovingly, then picked up her cell phone and speed dialed.
"Eli? The address is 647½ East 6th Street. It's the basement ... Make sure to tell Jacob to get Earl and Jamel. They're the leaders ... That's very thoughtful of you to invite me to a traditional Bulgarian folk music concert. I'd love to go, but I think I'll stay home tonight. Wish Jacob good luck from me." She put down the phone, turned to the sleeping Jim and moved close to him, "What a sweet man."
Kenneth, cheerfully reconciled to protective custody, was sitting at the dining room table with Bruce and two uniformed police officers, who were relaxing in their shirtsleeves while playing pinochle. Alvin Kelson was white, young, well-built, with short black hair, dark eyes, a broken nose, full lips and a firm chin. Wade Turnborough was black, young, big, with cocoa skin, a bald shiny head, large brown eyes, delicate features and a genial expression, unusual in an on-duty police officer.
"Where did you guys learn how to play pinochle?" Kenneth asked Wade flirtatiously.
"About a year ago we were babysitting some Mafia squealer. All he wanted to do was play cards and he taught us how to play pinochle. That's all we did for six weeks, day and night. Depending on who was there, we played two-, three- or four- handed."
"Well let me warn you about Kenneth," Bruce said teasingly. "He cheats."
"We're used to that," Alvin replied, smiling. "You should have seen this Mafia hood cheat. He tried everything."
"And we caught him every time," Wade said smugly.
"It makes you wonder how these guys get away with so much," Alvin mused.
"I am not a cheater, Bruce. That's a terrible thing to say, especially when I'm just getting to know these nice officers."
"You better watch out for him," Bruce warned.
"Don't listen to him," Kenneth protested. "I'm not like that at all." He turned his back on Bruce and asked Wade, "What's it like guarding witnesses?"
"Mostly routine. We stay with them until the case is resolved. We eat with them; watch TV, listen to music, do household chores."
"That sounds very domestic," Kenneth purred.
"Did you ever lose a witness?"
"You mean did one get killed?" Wade asked and when Kenneth nodded, replied convincingly, "Never."
"That's reassuring. Would you shoot someone to protect us?"
"Of course. That's our job."
"How exciting. Would you get shot for us?"
"If we had to. As long as you didn't piss us off."
"Oh, I wouldn't do that. And you'll be with us for a few days?"
"Until it's over."
"What if they don't show up in the next few days?" Bruce asked.
"We'll be with you as long as necessary," Alvin declared.
"That's very nice," Kenneth murmured, then smiled at Wade. "I've heard that police officers are really very sensitive. I'm looking forward to getting to know you."
Arnold and Stan left the basement meeting room and Arnold let out a sigh of relief, glad to get away from scary Jamel. Stan, carrying the bomb, or as Earl called it, the 'package', shook his head warningly.
"We're not out of it yet."
They walked east on 6th Street, to Avenue D, then to Houston Street, with Stan carefully holding the 'package' so as not to jostle it.
"I'm really nervous about doing this," Arnold mumbled.
"You said that earlier."
"I'm even more scared now."
"You're making me nervous."
"You mean you weren't scared before?"
"A little. But you're making it worse."
"Are you sure that thing won't go off?" Arnold asked quaveringly, pointing to the package.
"I'm not sure of anything."
"Do you know how it works?"
"No. Will you stop with the questions?"
"I can't," Arnold almost shouted, and stopped abruptly. "I don't think I can go through with this."
"Earl warned you about what they'd do to you."
"I'd rather risk that than get blown up. I won't do it."
"They'll come looking for you," Stan warned.
"I don't care. I'll get out of town. I have a sister who lives ..."
"Don't tell me. This way I can't tell them."
"Thanks, Stan. You're a life saver. What are you going to do?"
"Well, I'm not doing it alone. I'll get rid of this bomb and also leave town."
"Do you want me to go with you?"
"No. I'll dump it in the river, then take off. Good luck." He stuck out his hand, and Arnold shook it.
"Thanks, Stan. Good luck to you."
Arnold scurried off without looking back, and Stan started walking east toward the river. He waited until there was a break in the traffic and crossed the highway on the walkway. He started towards the river and a mugger stepped out of the shadows with a knife.
"Give me your money, you queer."
Stan handed him the package, then turned and ran. The mugger looked around warily, then started to open the package.
Two black SUVs with tinted windows pulled up in front of the Righteous Avengers building. Jacob, who was sitting in the front seat of the first vehicle, called over his headset.
"Does everyone read me loud and clear?"
When everyone acknowledged, he said calmly, "This is the drill. First we set the hypnotic gas at the front and back doors to blow into the room. We give it thirty seconds, then we go in. Three through the front door, three through the back. We take them all out and drain every drop of their blood."
Claude, who had been a much teased guest at the recent meeting, moaned with anticipated pleasure.
"Please Claude, control yourself ..." Jacob ordered. "You can drink it, or siphon it into a container. It's your choice. Just be quick and be sure no one gets away. When all of you are finished, signal me and we'll get out. Any questions?"
"Can we have more than one?" Claude asked hopefully.
"If there are enough to go around."
"It sounds delicious."
"Enough," Jacob snapped. "Everybody ready?" When everybody confirmed, Jacob ordered: "Let's go."
The six men, dressed in dark suits, wearing black fedora hats and black gloves, got out of the SUVs. Jacob led two men to the front door. The other three went to the back of the building. Jacob gave them a minute to get there, then said to Claude, "Place the hypnotics."
Jacob held Claude's arm for a moment to keep him from rushing. Claude placed the canister at the bottom of the door, slid the nozzle in the space under the door and turned the valve a few times until he heard the hiss indicated the odorless, invisible gas was escaping.
"Give it a minute to work," Jacob whispered. They listened to the blaring German marching music and grinned wolfishly at each other as they waited for the gas to take effect.
The Righteous Avengers were straining to hear Earl, who was walking up and down, talking over the clamor of the marching music and the TV. Earl gestured dramatically to emphasize his point and everyone nodded approval, even though they didn't hear a word. When he pointed to Jamel with a broad smile, they knew he was talking about the bomb. Jamel sat there smugly, beaming with satisfaction. Earl spoke a little louder.
"Later tonight we will hear from brother Arnold and brother Stan that they have eliminated the witnesses who ..."
He paused when members started collapsing. Some yelled, others coughed and gagged. Earl looked around, trying to figure out what was happening, then grabbed his throat, choked, and fell down, unconscious.
Claude listened intently at the door, then signaled Jacob the gas had worked. Jacob clicked the headset to alert the team, then said: "Go. Go." They rushed in, three at the front door, and three at the back, to fall on the unconscious Avengers. Four of the attack team drained blood directly from the necks of the unconscious men. Claude hid behind a napkin. The last one used a plastic siphon. They made loud sounds of sucking and slurping, followed by sighs of satisfaction, and they didn't spill blood anywhere.
"Everybody finished?" Jacob asked, not bothering with the headset.
"One more minute ..." Claude entreated, as he hurried to another body.
"Hurry up, greedy guts," Jacob teased.
"All right. I'm done," Claude said, with a sigh of satisfaction, followed by a burp.
"Let's get out of here," Jacob ordered.
The group started for the door. Jacob did a quick check of the bodies, then tore down the 'Thank god for AIDS' sign and draped it over Earl. He took out a note and put it on Earl's chest, laughed, then read aloud grinning, "Death to psycho killers. The Gay Avengers." He laughed. "That should stir up some attention." He turned to go, then became aware of the music. He stopped, walked to the cassette player and turned it off. He shook his head with disgust. "Not even the dead should listen to that," and walked out.