Fiction

Night Wind Rising - Part 4

By Reinaldo E. Grandal

An hour and a half later, Julio still sat with his eyes closed, entranced.

I quietly rose, went into the kitchen and lit a cigarette. Lombardi slowly followed.

Clayton and Vaughn joined us, Vaughn lighting his own cigarette. "What does it mean?" Clayton whispered.

I nodded toward Lombardi. "Ask her about the Night Wind."

"That's need-to-know," she responded.

"We need to know," I said.

Lombardi sighed. "The Night Wind was a Yankee class boat, armed with sixteen SS-N-Sixes. She began regular patrols off the east coast in sixty-seven. In November Kosygin red-lined Johnson to warn us that the ship's captain, Andrei Komarov, had gone insane and planned to launch against us. A Coast Guard cutter was the first to spot her and track her down until an attack sub, the Chicago, intercepted her about thirty-five miles from Key West. The Chicago fired on her. We lost her completely." She paused. "She never resurfaced. She must have been destroyed."

"Wasn't Andrei Komarov related to Vladimir Komarov?" I asked.

"The cosmonaut who died in the Soyuz crash in sixty-seven? They were second cousins."

"You think the loss caused Komarov to go nuts?" Clayton asked.

"I doubt it. I doubt that Komarov was even insane in the clinical sense."

Lombardi studied me for a moment. "Why?"

"His surname goes way back," I answered, recalling a text I had read long ago. "Yuri Komarov lived in Kiev in the twelfth century. He was well known in the local circle of witches' covens as a master warlock."

Vaughn rolled his eyes as he exhaled a lung-full of smoke. "Oh, Sweet Fucking Jesus. First haunted houses, and now witchcraft."

"Seal it, Vaughn," Lombardi snapped. She turned to me. "Go ahead."

"Grigori Komarov attained similar recognition in the fourteenth century," I continued. "In 1811, Nikolai Komarov was suspected by the local authorities of being responsible for the disappearances of a hundred and nineteen people, including thirteen kids. Nothing was proven, but it was supposed that the missing were used as sacrifices in satanic rituals. In 1843, Nikolai Komarov's son, Rodion, was also rumored to have delved in witchcraft."

"Rodion Komarov was Andrei Komarov's great-grandfather," Clayton realized out loud, remembering his Russian history. "He was a general under Nicholas. Fought at Sevastopol."

I nodded and turned to Lombardi. "I'll bet Komarov and his senior crewmen had loads of privileges. Money. Influence."

She turned her gaze to Julio. "Come to think of it. All within a relatively short period of time, too."

"Well, well. Deals with the devil," I said. I stubbed out my cigarette, leaned back against the wall and thought of the history of demon worship in Komarov's family. My mind reeled at the thought of satanic rituals performed by the captain and senior officers of a Soviet missile submarine. "I wonder what kind of deal Andrei struck with the devil that would have involved a nuclear strike. A move like that in the pinnacle of the Cold War would have meant the end of civilization."

"Well, I suppose it doesn't matter now, right? I mean, Komarov's been dead for twenty-three years," Clayton offered hopefully.

"You heard what Constantino told us. The spirits of Komarov and his senior crewmen are still on the Night Wind."

Vaughn frowned. "So what? The Night Wind's sunk. What could a handful of ghosts, provided there were any, do with the rusted hulk of a sub?"

I lit another cigarette. "We don't know how much damage the Night Wind's sustained, and those SS-N-Sixes might still be within striking range of the States, provided the launching system is intact."

Vaughn was stunned into silence.

"Look," I said, "I've seen the spirits of the dead manifest themselves physically before, but that doesn't mean it's happening on the Night Wind. I'll tell you something, though. Fidel's been turning the area off Cienfuegos upside down. I don't think it's entirely impossible that Komarov's spirit's been luring him there, maybe to raise the Night Wind, maybe to use it." I turned again to Lombardi. "Revolution 'rising like wind in the night'," I reminded her.

Lombardi nodded. "Fidel and Komarov were especially friendly, too. But if all this is true," she asked, "why has Komarov waited so long?"

"Perhaps Fidel's needed to get older, lose some of his vitality, to be susceptible to the psychic suggestion..."

"Mister King," Manuela called.

I followed Lombardi, Clayton and Vaughn into the dining room. Julio still sat with eyes closed, breathing shallowly.

I turned to Manuela, who looked at me. "He began to moan," she explained.

After a few silent moments, I asked Julio, "Are you still on the ocean floor?"

"Yes." His voice was low.

"What do you see, Julio?"

"Before us, a ravine. It stretches in a serpentine fashion from east to west. In the darkness, through the mist, I see the outline of a metal structure wedged between the walls of the fault."

"Have you your bearings?"

"Yes, I think so."

"How far is the Night Wind from Cienfuegos?"

"Nearly twenty miles."

"In what direction?"

"Due south."

After a pause Constantino's voice returned. "We must go now, before the evil one senses our presence." Julio opened his eyes and regarded Martinez. "Do not despair, my daughter," the voice said, "for, though what you have done in the past has pleased Satan, remember that there is no death for those who turn to our Lord Christ for forgiveness."

Martinez trembled visibly.

I said to Julio, "I still have questions, Constantino."

Julio's head slumped down. His body shuddered. Almost instantly he raised his head again, straightening his shoulders. His eyes again focused on Martinez, but they were menacing now, as was his sneer. His voice was now altogether another's. "Remember me, nena."

Manuela bolted to Julio. She began to breathe quickly and pass her hands all around him, inches away from his body. Julio sighed heavily and Manuela withdrew. She positioned her hands over the bowl of water and briskly shook and rubbed them, as if trying to dry them. The Florida water immediately began to effervesce. Manuela returned to his side and resumed the "cleansing of his aura."

Julio threw his head back, trembling miserably, moaning as if in pain.

Manuela stumbled to the bowl and shook her hands again. The water now bubbled madly. Liquid spilled over the brim onto the tablecloth, and the linen started to smokily dissolve.

Julio rose and stepped back, never looking away from us. He suddenly turned ashen, grabbed at his chest and sank silently to his knees, staring into space, breathless, and then fell to his side, still staring, still clutching at his chest.

"Jesus," Vaughn said, quickly kneeling by Julio, looking for a pulse. Manuela also knelt there, sobbing and crossing herself repeatedly.

"Who the fuck was that?" Clayton gasped from behind me.

"I'd venture a guess," Lombardi said. "Komarov."

I nodded. "He must have sensed Julio and Constantino near the Night Wind."

"Vaughn," Lombardi said, nodding toward Julio, "the basement."

"I shall help you," Martinez said efficiently, having quickly composed herself. She approached the two.

Too cool, I thought. "Yes," I told her, "do that."

Ignoring me, Martinez grasped Julio from under his knees while Vaughn reached under Julio's arms, wrapped his own around Julio's chest and lifted. They made their way toward the basement door. Manuela opened the door for them, weeping audibly. Her sobbing faded as the they went downstairs.

After several moments Lombardi went to the phone and began to dial.

"I've gotta leak," Clayton announced nervously and disappeared down the hallway.

"Thanks for sharing," I muttered.

"This is Jennifer Lombardi," she said into the receiver. "Contact Commodore Jensen immediately. Tell him we have a Beta Alert situation." She gave the duty officer the safe house's telephone number, hung up and turned to me. "We might as well give him the Night Wind's position. The Navy'll be happy to vaporize her. Nobody likes a loose end."

"You musn't," Martinez said. She stood in the kitchen doorway aiming a nickel-plated Magnum snub-nose at my chest.

The barrel of Clayton's nine-millimeter appeared at Martinez' temple. Lombardi drew her own pistol and aimed.

"Bad idea," Clayton said.

"Hold on," I told him. "Why musn't we?" I asked Martinez.

Her gun hand shook.

I lost my patience. "End of game, Sweetheart. Talk."

Clayton grabbed the revolver from her. Lombardi relaxed her aim.

Martinez' eyes held tightly to mine. "Komarov will kill me."

"What's your connection with Komarov?"

"He was my lover."

The astonishment in Lombardi's visage told me that had not been in the files. I turned to see Martinez fiddling with her ring. "A gift from Komarov?" I guessed.

"'Don't betray me, nena.' That was a warning from Komarov," Martinez rasped. Her eyes wavered momentarily. "He used to call me 'nena'." She looked again into my eyes. "I have already betrayed him by allowing you to persist."

I nodded. "I thought at first that the manifestations in this house were brought about by your own psychic energy, that they were the result of repressed guilt over what you had done to your father. I was wrong. The whispers and moans, the blood on the wall. It was Komarov. He was here all along, and you knew, even as you were dismissing everything. You knew about Komarov's deal with the devil, and about his influence on Fidel. That's why you defected." I turned to Lombardi. "The evil one on the Night Wind wasn't Komarov. It was Mister D. himself. And the image of a nuclear explosion. That was Constantino. He was trying to warn us."

Martinez looked away.

"Okay, lady, that leaves one other question," Clayton said, cradling the Magnum in his hand. "How did you wrangle this from Vaughn?"

She said nothing.

"Check on Vaughn," Lombardi told Clayton.

"I'll go, too," I said. I followed Clayton downstairs, while Lombardi continued to hold Martinez at gunpoint.

We found Manuela's lifeless form at the foot of the stairs. Clayton knelt down to examine her. "One quick karate chop to the larynx," he told me. I pointed to a small scratch on Manuela's throat, and Clayton nodded. "Martinez' ring," he said.

We turned left into a section of the basement that had been refurbished as a lounge. We stopped at the doorway. A deathly stench that by now had become too familiar permeated the room.

Julio lay on a small sofa. His eyes were wide open and his body twitched spasmodically. Beside him, on the floor, lay Vaughn. His dead eyes stared miserably at the ceiling. A dark wet stain saturated the crotch of his pants. Julio's hand was at his throat, fingers still digging deeply into torn, bloody flesh.

"The motherfucker's alive," Clayton breathed.

The terror and helplessness in the moan that came from Julio's lips paralyzed us. It rose quickly in pitch, until it was not unlike the squeal of a slaughtered pig.

A creamy white viscous liquid mist began to emanate from Julio's nostrils, mouth and ears. Julio shuddered. It seeped from his pores.

"What the fuck is that?" Clayton asked.

"Komarov, using Julio's bodily fluids to physically manifest himself." I grabbed Clayton's arm. "Get the Florida water! If we douse Julio, we can send Komarov back to where he came from!"

The mist culminated into a singular mass and began to take form. As Clayton bolted out of the lounge and upstairs, a numinous tendril shot out from the mass and slammed the basement door behind him.

The figure that finally solidified from the mist was only somewhat more than skeletal remains. Flesh and ligament appeared to hang loosely from the skull and hands. Its eyes looked me over mockingly. It seemed to be clad in a tattered uniform that bore a Soviet captain's insignia.

"Komarov," I breathed.

"See how I am resurrected," it hissed. "See how he has kept his promise. My comrades and I will be eternal."

"You've chosen eternal darkness," I countered.

"Yes," it crooned, "I have chosen, and shall continue to do so. Once our promise to him has been fulfilled I shall be free."

"You're wrong," I said. "You'll always be death's servant."

"I shall serve no one."

"Your master will revel in the waste and destruction you seek. It will only strengthen him and his hold on you."

"No! In the midst of the broken bodies and despair I shall reign! This he has promised me!"

"You're a fool," I said.

Again it hissed.

From upstairs I heard the telephone begin to ring. Lombardi shouted out Clayton's name. Again, the phone rang. There was a struggle. A body crashed to the floor. I heard the shattering of porcelain, and the splash of water, and the phone still ringing. ombardi shouted, Drop it, Martinez!"

"Yes," Komarov hissed, looking up. "Yes, nena, kill them. Kill them both."

I stood there in the stench, hearing the phone ring, staring at the spectre before me as he exerted his psychic influence on Martinez, listening to the remnants of the Florida water dripping through the crack beneath the basement door and onto the wooden steps as the phone still rang. A single gunshot sounded, and then the ringing stopped.

The ghoul's eyes widened. "NO!" it shrieked. Its bony fists clenched. "Nena, you have betrayed me!"

I heard someone pull hard at the basement door's knob. Clayton cried out my name from beyond the door.

The thing that was Komarov raged and floated toward me.

Two more shots rang out, and then a fourth. Wood splintered. Again, someone struggled with the door.

I staggered back one or two feet, nearly stumbling over Manuela. Komarov began to lunge at me. With speed born from terror I climbed the stairs and pounded insanely against the door, as a man buried alive.

"KING!" Clayton screamed from the other side, the living world. "KING!"

Komarov's form floated up the steps, a vengeful spirit less interested in undoing the world than in tearing me apart. I anticipated the beast's bony digits taking me, eviscerating me like a bloody paper doll. As it came upon me its skull grinned with vicious delight. I could smell its decayed breath. I closed my eyes, praying that it would be quick and certain that it would not be, and waited.

***

I watched Julio tremble and weep on the living room couch, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and his hands wrapped around a crucifix, as Clayton and three other agents carried the bodies of his wife, Vaughn and Ana Martinez de la Cruz through the front door.

"He just appeared," Lombardi's voice trembled softly. "Constantino just appeared between me and Martinez."

I listened, but could not take my eyes from Julio.

"I mean, she knocked Clayton down and grabbed his gun," she continued, "and I told her to drop it, but she didn't seem to hear me. She just raised the gun like she wasn't even in control of herself. And then he appeared."

I finally looked at her.

"All he said was 'Turn to him'." She paused. "'Turn to Him.' And the look in her eyes. The saddest look I ever saw. Like there was only one way out. She put the barrel under her chin, whispered to Christ to forgive her, and let off a round."

"I heard the phone ringing," I said.

"Commodore Jensen. The Viper was monitoring Cuban naval movements six hours ago when they came upon the trench and found the Night Wind. The captain was waiting for instructions when Jensen called. Jensen ordered the Night Winddestroyed."

I nodded and walked out the front door and into the night. It rained.

The nightmare was behind us now. Komarov's part of his hellish contract could not be fulfilled. He had been inches from me when he and his lust had disappeared into oblivion at the very moment the Night Wind had been blasted by the Viper's torpedoes.

I prayed for Vaughn, for Manuela and her grieving husband, for Ana Martinez de la Cruz and for Komarov and his comrades until the rain poured through their memories and finally swept them away as dust.