18 The Codex

“So who are they in cahoots with?” Tom asked, after Roy filled him in on his preliminary research.

Roy arched his eyebrows at Tom. “Seen a bunch of mobster films, have you?”

Tom shrugged and said, “Well?”

The man smiled thinly and said, “You’re alright! I’ve got a few things to look into here in town. You said one of the women is in the hospital. I might poke around her house.”

Tom nodded. “The house might be booby-trapped.”

Roy considered him carefully, “What kind of shit are we into, doctor?”

“Cult,” Tom said. “Black magic.”

“Loonies in dresses,” Roy asked, “or bad mojo?”

“I didn’t expect,” Tom began, but Roy waved him off.

“You work in a big southern police department long enough and you see some weird shit,” Roy explained to him. “Now me, I spent five years in New Orleans homicide before moving to Memphis, so I’ve seen just about enough to make a believer out of me!”

“You want me to tag along? I’m about the only person around for now who can detect a magical booby-trap,” Tom said.

“Not anymore,” said a young man at the door who sounded like a big blond surfer from Malibu. That conception would be shattered by the sight of a 5’4” Korean-American. Though Cho did grow up in Malibu, he was as much a surfer as he was Aryan. “Cho,” he said, introducing himself. “Tall, dark and steely here is Dietrich.”

The German nodded politely without giving anything away by facial expressions. Dietrich wasn’t that tall, truth be told, though he seemed taller standing by Cho. But his hair was raven, and his eyes were nearly silver gray, and his outfit was a variation on the theme, so the description was apt.

Tom smiled and hugged Cho; Dietrich extended his hand with almost a glimmer of warmth Roy didn’t miss. “Thanks for coming guys,” Tom said.

In a thick German accent, Dietrich spoke for the first time since arriving, “It goes without saying. He who strikes one strikes us all.”

Roy lived by a similar code. “I’ll take him,” Roy said. “Dietrich was it?’

The German nodded stiffly and Tom smiled. “You want to go now?”

“Yeah,” Roy said. “Then I’m going to poke around the underworld a bit.”

“Hell?” Cho asked seriously.

“You people,” Roy grumbled. “Bars and alleys!”

“Dietrich, stay with him? These people are everywhere and nowhere,” Tom said.

Dietrich nodded. “They’re powerful?”

“And committed,” Tom said with a nod.

Dietrich turned, but added, “I’m glad your man will be alright,” before following Roy.

Tom’s mouth was agape. “Did you know he knew that much English?” Cho asked with a laugh.

“No,” Tom laughed, shaking his head.

“So this is him,” Cho said, stepping up beside Tom.

“This is Aiden O’Connell,” Tom said grabbing his lover’s limp hand and squeezing.

“We were all so sorry about Jamie. I wish we’d met in person,” his friend said.

“He enjoyed your internet chats though,” Tom smiled. “And now here we are.”

“Will we ever see each other under happy circumstances again?” Cho wondered aloud.

“Once this is over, I promise,” Tom said, putting an arm around Cho. “We’ll all come up to New York, or maybe we can all meet in Paris.”

“All?” Cho asked.

“We’ve got a lot to catch up on!” Tom said. They sat down and Tom began with the dark day he found Peter bleeding under a tree.

“You have any legal troubles, Dietrich?” Roy asked as he reached into his pocket.

“No,” the man said.

“Well, you will if we get caught. If the police show up run for it. It’s every man for himself,” Roy said as he pulled out his lock-pick tools. A few seconds later they slipped inside. There was no alarm, luckily, but three steps inside, Roy felt a hand grip his shoulder.

“Stop!” the German whispered, pointing to the doorway.

“I don’t see anything,” Roy said.

“Spider web,” Dietrich muttered.

“So?” Roy asked, beginning again, but the German’s hand tightened on his shoulder.

“Charmed,” Dietrich said. “Get closer, but do not touch it!”

As they drew near, Roy gasped. “Christ. Black widows?”

“Dozens,” Dietrich said with a heavy nod. Raising his palm, the man muttered something in German and a soft light radiated from his hand; as Roy watched, the web disintegrated and disappeared.

“It’s like it was never there,” Roy said, awed.

“It wasn’t,” the man responded. “But what was there was real enough.” The way he said it made Roy shudder. He was glad he could not see what was there.

“Thanks,” Roy said, releasing a breath. “Anything else?”

“Nothing I can see … yet,” Dietrich whispered.

“Don’t suppose you know what we’re looking for?” Roy asked.

“Her temple is in the attic,” Dietrich answered. “I’ll handle that….”

“Not alone,” Roy said.

“Very well,” the mystic said darkly. “It won’t be pleasant.” Simple and matter-of-fact. “Why do you suppose the police haven’t been here?”

“Maybe they haven’t identified her yet,” Roy suggested.

“Perhaps,” Dietrich said, offering no solution of his own. They cleared the house quickly. The other booby traps were designed to scare, where the one at the entrance had aimed to maim or kill. One was a specter that shrieked into any invader’s face, while the other gave the sensation of a swarm of rats attacking. Dietrich disarmed both.

“Do you want to look around now, or start with the attic?” Dietrich asked.

“Attic,” the man said, and Dietrich nodded his silent assent. The entrance to the attic was well hidden in the guest room closet ceiling, but at last they found it. Dietrich pulled down the ladder. Roy grudgingly let him go first. Dietrich stuck his head into the attic but saw nothing but saw only a table. Roy began to ascend after him but heard an explosion.

“Stay down!” came Dietrich’s pained instruction. But Roy wasn’t one to hide, so he hurried up the ladder.

Judah sat at his father’s desk and scoured countless books, searching for a reference to a book in a box. There had to be myth or legend about such a volume, there had to be! But so far, nothing. “Father,” the man muttered. “This is too deep for me!” Whether he was speaking to his father, or his Father in heaven, it was the same. He heard no guidance.

He dropped the next book on the floor. When he picked it up, it was open to a page with an illustration: he saw the little wooden box carved with the ancient symbols he had seen earlier that day. His heart fluttered as he read the caption: the Azazel Codex. Its entry read, “A mythical book of dark magic, the Azazel Codex appears as a solid block of wood, but in reality it is a box. Within it lie pages inscribed with the darkest knowledge, the black wisdom of the Edenic serpent. There is much speculation about the content of the Codex, but none who have seen it have dared give a description. Azazel, for whom the book is named, is mentioned in the Torah in concert with the Yom Kippur liturgy.”

Judah hurriedly went through his father’s shelf until he found the book he was looking for; it wasn’t a real book, but sliding it out opened a secret panel. A hidden case of books was revealed as the front case swung open. He found an ancient-looking tome with the ominous sounding title, “Darkest magic.” He opened it and flipped pages until he found the part of the entry he required: “The Azazel Codex responds to the name of the demon who inscribed it.” That would perhaps help. But there were millions of demons, and thousands of recorded names.

He wiped his brow and read something he had long forgotten: “The Azazel Codex is a book of demonic magic, the fallen counterpart of the angelic magic of white witchcraft. This is not merely magic with the power to summon and direct demons, such as that given to Solomon the King, but the very magic of the demons themselves, a code of blackest chaos.”

Judah lifted the phone and called his synagogue president. “Hal, its Judah!”

“Rabbi,” the man said, sounding tired. “It’s very late.”

“Hal, I’ve had an emergency, and I’ll be away for 10 days or so. I’ll miss Shabbat and morning and evening prayers. Could you call around and make sure things are covered?”

“Of course, Rabbi,” the man said, suddenly awake. “Is everything alright?”

“No, Hal, some good friends of mine are in some serious danger,” Judah replied. “I’ll let you know what’s going on as I’m able. I’m really sorry to call you so late!”

“Don’t worry about anything here; it’ll all be under control!” the man said. Judah smiled and hung up the phone; then he packed his bag. He had no idea how long he might be gone. Within the hour, he was on his way.

Roy came face to face with a thing of nightmares. The humanoid creature’s flesh was entirely exposed, glistening with mucus. “Jesus Christ!” Roy said, averting his eyes.

The creature snarled and said, “Not exactly, mortal,” in a cross between a growl and a hiss. “For your own good, please refrain from such profanities!”

“Get downstairs, Roy,” Dietrich gasped.

“I’m not leaving you here,” Roy said, reaching for his gun.

“Really, Mr. Collins,” the creature laughed. “A GUN? Surely you’re too smart for that!” It waved its hand and the gun began to shake in Roy’s hand; he could feel an unseen force trying to turn his gun on himself, so he dropped it. “Very good. We’re civilized men.”

“You’re no man,” Roy said.

“Too right,” the fiend grinned.

“What is your name?” Roy asked. “You seem to know mine.”

“I, pathetic monkey, am Nebrios. Tell me, how do you wish to die?” He asked the question with a disinterest that chilled Roy. “I’m afraid painlessly in your sleep at 90 is no longer an option,” Nebrios added with a cruel grin.

“Roy, get over here,” Dietrich called and the man hurried to his side just as Dietrich closed the circle he’d been crafting while the demon’s attention was on Roy.

“How fun!” Nebrios exclaimed, clapping softly his raw hands. “Now we’ll have a terrible game until that bitch gets back!”

“Helen you mean?” Roy asked. “She’ll be a while!”

“Oh?” the demon asked.

“Hospital,” Roy nodded.

“Dear! Too bad she isn’t dead, or I’d be free of this form, and this cage!” Nebrios lamented, though he didn’t seem overly concerned. He seemed far more intent on the fun he could have with the men across the room from him.

Roy looked at Dietrich who said, “Stay inside the circle.”

“Are you alright?” Roy asked.

“Broken rib,” the man grunted. “Cut on my leg.”

Roy took out his cell phone and tried to make a phone call. No service. “I may not be able to affect you inside the circle, but outside of it, a tremendous interference is just the thing,” Nebrios laughed.

Roy asked, “How long will your friends wait before they come looking for us?”

“Not long,” Dietrich said.

“And you think they’ll fare better than you did?” Nebrios taunted.

“Tom Corman will make you wish you were in hell before he sends you back,” Dietrich chuckled through the pain. To that, Nebrios had no witty rejoinders.

Tom and Cho had fallen asleep and were startled awake by someone hurrying into the room. Bleary eyed, Tom looked over expecting to find Dietrich or Roy, or both. Judah Steinmetz stood in the door with a dark look. “Expecting someone else?” the man asked Tom as Cho woke up.

“Yes, actually. What time is it?” Tom asked.

“2 a.m.,” Judah replied.

“They should be back by now. We sent them to check on Helen’s house,” Tom said.

“You should go,” Judah said. “Now!”

“What is it, Judah?” Tom asked.

“I know what we’re up against, in part. Your friends are in trouble. I’ll explain when you get back, but go in expecting the worst!”

Tom looked startled but took Cho with him. In the car, Cho asked, “Who was that?”

“Rabbi Judah Steinmetz,” Tom began.

There was a long silence before Cho asked, “The same Steinmetz?”

“His son,” Tom replied, before driving in silence. He pressed the peddle down harder. They found the door unlocked and carefully stepped inside. “Anyone here?” Tom called.

“Can you feel it?” Cho asked.

“I can,” Tom said. “It’s foul. Definitely a demon.”

“Yeah,” Cho said. “And a pretty powerful one at that; how do you get possessed by this kind of demon?”

“Cho, we’re not going to find a possessed person. It’s a demon.”

TOM!” Cho began to protest.

“I know, I know. But I dispatched one last week. Take my word,” Tom said.

Cho reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver cross. He’d designed it himself; the central shaft was hollow and held blessed water. Tom smiled and said, “To each his own.”

“Roy! Dietrich!” Tom called as they walked through the house.

“We could try to preserve the element of surprise,” Cho whispered.

“Why?” Tom asked. “It knew we were coming.” Cho shivered at that thought, and Tom continued calling out. At last they found the ladder to the attic. “Roy? Dietrich?”

“Tom,” Dietrich called weakly. “It’s a demon!” After that, all they heard was static. Interfering with sound as easily done as disrupting the cell phones. Tom climbed the stairs without hesitation and stepped into the attic.

“If it isn’t the man in the white hat himself,” Nebrios grinned, his white teeth glistening in sharp relief against the oozing red flesh. “Professor Corman, I presume.”

“I’m in no mood for pleasantries,” Tom said with an even tone. “Why are you here?”

“Because the bitch and her friends called me!” Nebrios hissed.

WHY HAVE THEY CALLED YOU?” Tom demanded, shoving his hand into his pocket.

“Why does anyone do what they should not?” the demon asked coyly. “Why do any of us do what we do? Why do unarmed men pet lions? Why do protestors antagonize dictators?”

WHAT IS THE PLAN?” Tom asked again.

Nebrios smiled. “Plan? What does my kind know of such things? We are agents of chaos, not of reason!”

“My patience with you grows short,” Tom hissed.

“But I find you infinitely entertaining, Corman! I shall enjoy helping tear your world apart!” Nebrios smiled cruelly.

Tom raised his hand and chanted words so soft none of those in the room could hear and the form before him began to writhe in agony. Moments later, Cho was at his side, directing his faith through his focus. With the demon subdued, Dietrich broke his circle and joined his friends. Nebrios was in such great pain he could scarcely speak, and the practitioners in the room could feel the force building to a critical level. Just before the snap-crack of success announced his exorcism, Nebrios smiled through the pain and said, “Thanks for this. The master is going to love you!” And then he was gone and the three of them were on their asses, knocked down by a small blast.

“Roy, get what you can downstairs. We’ll collect up here,” Tom said. “The police will be here soon.”

“What’s going on?” Tom asked as he swept into the room. “You knew there would be a demon there. How?” Cho, Dietrich, and Roy followed shortly and watched expectantly.

Judah clasped his hands and said, “The book! I know what it is, and it’s not good.”

“Well?” Tom asked impatiently. “I just sent a second demon back to hell in a week, so you’ll forgive me for being a little short!”

“The book is called the Azazel Codex,” Judah said. “It is a demon’s grimoire.”

“Black magic,” Cho asked.

“Demonic magic is to black magic what angel magic is to a little white magic,” Judah said, giving them all a chill.

“Would it be of any use to human sorcerers?” Tom asked.

“It would be pretty spectacular in the hands of a witch like Helen,” Judah said.

“But?” Tom asked.

“The real danger would lie in it falling into the hands of a demon that, in its pure form, could use it to full effect,” Judah said.

“They’re looking for a demon to wield this magic,” Tom speculated.

“Perhaps,” Judah said. “Or for the demon whose name unlocks the volume.”

“AH!” Tom said. “That’s how it opens!”

Suddenly, a weak voice gave them all a start. “Can you all shut the fuck up? I’m trying to sleep over here!” A great dam of tears broke in Tom as he spun around and grabbed the man in the bed. “Tom, baby, I’m sore!”

“I’m sorry,” Tom laughed and cried on his shoulder. “Thank God! Thank God!”

“What happened?” Aiden asked.

“Later,” Tom whispered. Looking over his shoulder, eyes teary, he said, “Give us a bit?”

The other men in the room filed out to the waiting room. They found Micky in the waiting room, and Roy shook his shoulder. “What’s going on?” Micky asked.

“Your boy just woke up,” Roy said.

Micky sighed deeply. “Thank God! Tom with him?”

Roy nodded. “Yeah. Thought the fellow was going to pass out when Aiden spoke!”

Micky took out his cell and called the house. “Yeah?” Peter answered, groggily.

“Peter, it’s Micky. Could you give my wife the phone please?”

“Sure,” came the tired response.

A few minutes later, Doreen was on the line. “Everything alright?” she asked nervous.

“Aiden’s awake, talking to Tom,” Micky said, unable to keep the smile out of his voice.

“Oh, Peter, he’s awake,” Doreen reported to Peter, making Micky smile. “We’ll be down first thing in the morning,” she said.

“You aren’t going to be able to sleep,” Micky said.

“No, but I want to be here in the morning when everyone wakes up to pass along the news. See you in a few hours dear!” she replied.

“See you in a few,” he said, before adding, “I love you, babe!”

Doreen practically blushed. “I love you too.”

Back in the room, Tom had scooted into the bed next to Aiden and curled up next to him. “I’ve been so scared,” Tom admitted.

“Tell me what happened,” Aiden insisted.

Tom began at the beginning, with the shooting, and left nothing out. He knew the man would be tired, and these things would worry him, but Aiden deserved to know, if that’s what he wanted.

“Sounds like you’ve been busy since I’ve been gone. Only two days?” Aiden asked.

Two-and-a-half,” Tom said, making Aiden laugh and wince.

“I don’t feel as bad as I might have thought,” Aiden said, “but it does hurt!”

“It’s the healing spells,” Tom said. “They’re taking some of the edge off.”

“Well, let’s keep it up,” Aiden said.

“That’ll be interesting with you awake,” Tom said, describing Alasdair’s ‘methodology.’

Aiden got pink in the cheeks but winked and said, “Small price to pay, I suppose, having a British hottie making you feel good.”

“I’d smack you if you felt better,” Tom said with a gentle smile.

“I’d enjoy it if I felt better,” Aiden said, trying his level best to cuddle with Tom. Tom laughed. “My parents are here?”

“Yeah, your dad’s probably in the lobby, and your mom is at the house,” Tom said.

“Could you send him in?” Aiden asked. “I should say something to him before I go back to sleep, and I can feel it coming. It might be awhile before I’m able again.”

“Don’t say that,” Tom said as he stood and headed for the door. Tom found Micky talking to Roy and said, “He’s asking for you.”

“Me?” Micky asked. Tom nodded, and the man got up, seeming nervous to go alone. “Aiden?” Micky asked as he opened the door.

“Hi, dad,” Aiden said with a weak smile.

Micky sat down by the bed and said, “Glad to hear your voice, son.”

“It’s good to see you dad,” Aiden said. “I guess mom’s been worried.”

“We all have, boy,” Micky replied. After a long silence, he added, “Tom’s taken good care of us though.”

“I didn’t want you to meet him like this,” Aiden said.

“I suppose not!” Micky said. “But I’m very proud of you. You found a good man!”

“You really think so,” Aiden asked, sounding much more like a little boy asking for approval than he wanted to.

“Honestly,” Micky nodded. He squeezed his son’s hand. “It’s not been easy for me, Aiden, and it won’t always be, I imagine. But I am always proud of you!”

“Thanks dad,” Aiden said. “I’m tired.”

“Get some sleep, son. We can all wait for you,” Micky said.

“Can you get Tom? I don’t want to sleep without him,” Aiden said with a slight blush. Micky patted his hand and nodded, before retreating and sending Tom back in. Tom got back in the bed and Aiden put his head on Tom’s shoulder before drifting off.

Early the next morning, Tom extricated himself and slipped away to the bathroom. He straightened himself in the mirror and made his way to the waiting room. “Where are Roy and the others?” Tom asked Micky.

“Hotel. Reckon they’ll need some rest after a busy night. Roy wouldn’t say much other than that you’re a badass,” Micky said with a chuckle. “I can’t figure you out, doc!”

“How’s that?” Tom asked, sitting down next to him.

“Men like you generally don’t get called bad-asses by cops like Roy,” the man answered.

“Men like me?” Tom asked.

Micky’s face barely betrayed his embarrassment. “THAT is not what I meant. College guys, book-smart guys!”

“I hate that term, book-smart,” Tom smiled. “It implies that only useless knowledge comes from books. In fact, books are very dangerous things. A book can tell you a thousand ways to kill a man. What you need isn’t street-smarts, just a will to make that happen.”

“I suppose that’s so,” Micky said.

“Street-smart. That’s supposed to be some kind of compliment, but to tell you the truth, it’s mostly just a term for guys who have to make a lot of mistakes before they learn anything, isn’t it?” Tom asked, really giving it to the man now. “Not that I don’t respect that, but it isn’t the only way to get to be a bad ass.”

Micky laughed. “Well said.”

“In fact, Micky, all of this is about a book,” Tom said. “People willing to die to get the knowledge inside of it.”

“Must be some book,” Micky said.

“Ask Roy about last night. I don’t know if he’ll tell you. But yeah, some book. It’s more dangerous than an army,” Tom said. “Doreen here yet?”

“No, she’ll be along with Peter after David gets up and out of the house,” Micky said. “Between Martha and Doreen, I bet those boys are climbing the walls!”

“I bet they’re enjoying the attention,” Tom said. “You know about their background?”

The man nodded. “Some.” Tom sat back and told him more about David and Peter, what they’d been through, and their relation to the case. “Damn, those boys are strong. To come through that like they have.”

“They’ve got a lot to work on, but they’re sweet kids. It’s amazing,” Tom said.

“Well, they couldn’t have a better set of parents than you and my boy,” Micky said, nodding. Tom smiled.

Doreen arrived a few minutes later and gave Tom a hug. “Is he awake again?” she asked.

“Afraid he’s still sleeping, or he was when I left him,” Tom said. “Go back and see. I wouldn’t expect anything for a while though.”

“David was so excited,” she said. “He did not want to go to school, but Martha got him on his way. I’m sure he’ll come straight here.”

“Where’s Peter?” Tom asked with a smile.

“Oh, on his way in from the car. Some girl from the college hijacked him as we were arriving!” Doreen explained.

Tom rolled his eyes, as he heard them coming. Maggie was with Peter. Her voice was as distinctive as it was loud. When he caught sight of them, he stood and hugged Peter, who whispered, “Tom….” Tom squeezed him tightly as Maggie stood by smiling.

Then Tom turned and held out a hand. “Ms. Radner! It’s good to see you, but surely it could have waited until tomorrow?”

“I wasn’t sure you were going to be there,” she said with a smile. “The class appointed me ambassador so I could come see how you are!”

He smiled and said, “As luck would have it, Aiden woke this morning, so I’m feeling a great deal of relief, Ms. Radner. I will definitely be back in class tomorrow.”

“Great,” she said. Then she looked nervous and said, “There was something else.”

“Out with it,” Tom demanded.

“I’ve been writing that story, and it’s ready. It goes to the editor tomorrow,” she said, reaching into her bag for a couple of pages. “I thought you should look at it. It isn’t too late to incorporate some changes, if you bring them with you tomorrow.”

“You’re bringing me homework at the hospital,” he asked with a smile, and she blanched. “It’s okay. Thank you for letting me see it!”

“When things aren’t so hectic, I still want to talk to you about the Gay-Straight Alliance,” she added and he gave her a look.

“Later,” he said. She nodded and grabbed Peter, leading him off. Before she got him out of the room, Peter said, “Call me when he wakes up, Tom!”

“I will,” Tom said. “Talk to you soon!”

“Persistent one, eh?” Micky asked.

“Oh yeah!” Tom said, taking out the paper. He read through it quickly and found nothing too objectionable. There was no mention of the occult: it was a standard hero piece. It made him uncomfortable to be painted in that light and he told Micky so.

“Problem is, the label fits,” the man said, shaking his head.

“Far from it,” Tom said. “Far from it.”

At that moment, a man in black, with a carefully trimmed goatee, entered the room with two beautiful, but eccentric-looking, women. The man walked right up to Tom and pulled him up out of his seat and into a tight hug. “Shalom, my brother,” he whispered.

“Shalom, Avram,” Tom said with a deep sigh, as everything seemed less overwhelming.

Avram said, “Dietrich filled me in on last night. He tells me your skills have grown?”

Tom shook his head. “My motives give me strength.”

“The woman is here? In the hospital?” Avram asked.

“I stunned her; she should still be under,” Tom said.

Avram nodded to the two women who disappeared. “They can take care of her, find out what we can before we make a final determination.”

“Final determination? We don’t have the authority here, Avram,” Tom said.

“Nevertheless, this must be contained,” Avram said.

“That gives us a higher authority.” “Perhaps it does,” Tom said. “Perhaps it does.”