Thrown-Away Ship


Dan stood by the window of Hod’s study, watching the storm outside. The fire cracked and popped in the hearth. Hod sat on a huge, scarlet armchair, patterned with subtle, yellow flowers, in his magenta smoking jacket, – with the black, velvet trim – the paragon of fine sensibility and sophistication.

“I wouldn’t have taken you for such a dandy,” Dan remarked, still looking out the window, holding his familiar snifter of whiskey.

Hod also had a snifter on the table, at his side. In his delicate fingers, he held a cigar, Honduran tobacco. As he took a drag, the butt burned crimson. “Do you know why you’re here?” he said.

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Dan answered, finally turning around. He was in a black blazer, no tie, no socks, burnt sienna loafers. A Persian rug lay between them.

“Do you know why serial killers act the way they do?” Hod asked, taking a sip of whiskey.

Dan came closer, into the light of the flames. He could see a bleached skull and a golden Solar System ellipse on Hod’s desk, “Again, I haven’t the foggiest clue.”

He chewed slightly on the end of his cigar, even though he wasn’t supposed to do that, “The first step, is that serial killers – or unsubs, as we call them – won’t, or can’t, communicate with the entity that’s really bothering them.”

“Like their mothers or ‘the system,’ right?” Dan guessed.

Hod nodded, “Their own lives are chaotic, confused, frustrating. They won’t, or can’t, establish control, in what we consider to be ‘normal’ life.”

“For whatever reason, they don’t feel like they’re getting their due,” Dan added again.

A degree from Yale, lay behind glass, glittering in the darkness beyond, near the bookcase, “People break up; people get rejected. These are things that happen to everyone – but to the unsub, they are stressors. Why?”

Dan put out a hand and leaned on the mantelpiece, “The problem lies in the way the unsub thinks…”

“Yes,” Hod answered, looking at Dan directly for the first time, “Rob Ressler thought so, too.”

“You know,” Hod said, getting up and topping off his whiskey, “unsubs crave power and control; they just wall it off into one area of their lives. This process of reasserting power and control, though, eliminates the one witness to their great exhibit of dominance – the victim.”

“The nature of their crime thus becomes serial!” Dan realized, slapping his hand on the mantel.

“Correct,” Hod said, as he turned back around. Where his head had been, when he was seated in the chair, was a photo on Hod’s desk, of himself, Sebastian and a sandy-haired teenager.

“Your son?” Dan indicated the direction, with a slight movement of his head.

“Yes!” Hod raised his heavy eyebrows and looked behind him, picking up the frame, “Jon’s visiting his aunt this weekend.” He smiled for the first time that evening.

Dan looked wistful, “It’s a hard job, isn’t it?”

“Indeed,” Hod replied, solemn, setting the picture back down.

“Why did Cai bring me into this?” Dan wondered aloud.

Hod laughed, “That lothario with the curls, wearing coats redolent of Lord Dracula’s cape? The anti-avatars we’ll be hunting, are like the unsubs I mentioned, if not worse…”

The blood in Dan’s veins dried up. “Really?” he rasped.

“Of course,” Hod spread his arms wide, glass in one hand, cigar in another, “You didn’t think the spirit world was some sort of heaven, did you?”

Rain beat a staccato on the windowpane. Dan set his snifter down on the mantel and looked at his shoes on the 18th century rug. “He really pulled the rug out from under me, eh?” Dan said, glancing up, with a painful, rueful grin.

“The earth is shaky beneath everyone’s feet,” Hod intoned, as he reclined in the armchair once more.



“In the Light” – Led Zeppelin

“Hold my Hand” – UNKLE

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses

“Diamonds are Forever” – Shirley Bassey


tengu, shugendo

Cai took Dan to a tailor, and that evening they appeared at The Alley Cat – a premier entertainment venue, featuring on its stage, every night, diverse acts, from contortionists and disappearing magicians, to traveling troupes of escape artists.

Circular tables, covered with black tablecloths, were each lit with one red candle, in a circular glass. A cigar bar, The Alley Cat was one of the few establishments Downtown where you could still smoke indoors.

Through the haze, Dan glimpsed the two men from Cai’s cell phone picture: the tan, bearded Sebastian in a dark suit and a navy dress shirt, and the pale, smooth-faced Hod, in a suit and tie.

The clean-shaven FBI agent looked up at Dan and caught his eye. Dan felt a hook twist in his stomach, despite himself. Behind the profound gaze, he sensed a hot-blooded man, compelled by an all-consuming fire. The bearded man – although also broad-shouldered and endowed with an immense soul – was the more relaxed one, of the two.

vintage '90s, 1998