Because you all demanded it, this week’s FridayFlash features the continuing adventures of Professor Ezekiel Solomon.
DEAD MAN’S HAND
The detective paced back and forth at the far end of the interview room. Interview room. How do you like that? What a joke. We both knew what this room really was: an interrogation room. I was being interrogated. Hell, I bet the cops even had a cute name for the room. Like “the Box” or “the Cage” or “the Arena.” If the captain considered himself a particularly learned individual, he might so far as to call it “the Crucible.” But, who’d be that pretentious?
Whatever the hell they called it, I found myself alone in the room with one of New York City’s Finest. And, he seemed pretty damned eager to interrogate me.
The detective—what was his name? Berg? Burke? Burnett? Shit, I have no idea—stopped pacing and leaned against the two-way mirror that took up the entire wall across from the table where I was seated. He was a big guy. Maybe not tall, but big. I was a tall guy and, on more than one occasion, I’m pretty sure someone has used the word “rangy” to describe me. But, Detective What’s-His-Name was just a big, broad slab of cop. Seriously. The guy was built like a brick shithouse that had been reenforced with steel and concrete.
He stared at me with tiny, bloodshot eyes. He sniffed and did something with his mouth that made his sand-colored mustache twitch.
“Tell me again, Mr. Solomon…”
“Professor.” I made sure I said the word matter-of-factly and not like I was trying to pull intellectual rank. Why would I? Sure, I have a PhD, but he has a gun. And, no matter how smart you are, you can’t out-think a bullet. Although, to be fair, I have a gun, too. And a shotgun. And knives. Not to mention a crossbow, flamethrower, and a sword.
Crap…where was I? Oh, right.
“I’m a professor of folklore and mythology,” I offered when he repeated my previous statement. See? I offered the information. I was cooperating. All cordial like.
Detaching himself from the wall, the detective plodded across the room and dropped into the chair across from me. The guy was massive. I’m pretty sure most of his ponderous bulk came from too many between-meal snacks, but I didn’t doubt for a second he could wrap those shovel-like mitts around my throat and choke the life out of me if he wanted to. Mental note: avoid that. Anyway, he was like something out of a Greek legend. Like a cyclops. Or a minotaur.
Actually, to be fair, I’ve faced a minotaur and, impressive as the detective was, he’s no minotaur. He does have better taste in suits, though.
“So, Professor Solomon—” yeah, he wasn’t even trying to hide the snark— “what, exactly, were you doing trying to break into the Ellison residence?”
“What do you know about the Hand of Glory?”
I would have been surprised to find out that the New York Police Academy offered courses in arcane science and the mystic arts, but stranger things have happened. Usually when I was around. So, I started with the basics. The hand of a hanged criminal was taken, wrapped in a scrap of the dead man’s burial shroud, and dipped in tallow made from the corpse’s own fat. That last part made our stalwart detective pale slightly. But, he recovered by the time I got to how they would then take hair from the dead man’s head and fashion it into wicks, one for each finger of the hand.
He seemed okay after I told him what a Hand of Glory was. Then, I told him what a Hand of Glory did.
“Wait, wait, wait.” He shifted in his seat, his mustache practically doing the fandango. “This thing…this Hand of Glory…unlocks any door?”
I nodded. “Door. Window. In theory they could open wall safes and safety deposit boxes, too. Anything with a lock.” He already wasn’t buying it, so I figured I’d give him all I had. “And, once the candles were lit, anyone who looks at the thing will be frozen in their tracks and struck dumb.”
“So, you and your accomplice used this Hand of Glory to break into the Ellisons’ apartment…”
I smiled. No, really. I did. Couldn’t help myself. “No, Detective.” I, for the record, said that with practically no snark whatsoever. “When you get around to talking to the Ellisons, you’ll see that Walt Ellison and I were both on the faculty at NYU together and, while we might not have been close, we got along pretty well.”
This was starting to take longer than I had expected. And no one had offered me a soda. Weren’t they supposed to do that when they got you in “the Box”? Offer you a soda or a coffee or a cigarette? Or did they only do that when they were playing good cop-bad cop? If that’s the case, I’m about one cop short. But, damn, I was hungry. And tired. I might as well start from the beginning.
I told the good detective how it had been a few years since I had taught at NYU, but how a few of the professors still kept in touch. One of them, Ellison, had recently been in touch and told me about a series of robberies that had been plaguing faculty members of the university. The names of the victims meant nothing to me. But, when Ellison told me what department each of the victims worked for, something clicked. Two worked in the Ancient Studies department, and one each in the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Religious Studies, and Anthropology departments.
“Look, Detective, I’ve seen stuff, okay? Weird stuff. Stuff that has no real earthly explanation. So, you need to trust me when I say that the guy you have in custody was looking for something. And, judging from his knowledge of the arcane, coupled with the fields of study of the victims, it’s safe to say that whatever it is he’s looking for, is bad news.”
Something told me I was out of time. That something was the lovely red color of the detective’s face and the giant, throbbing forehead vein that was accompanying it.
Deep breath, Zeke. “You don’t have to believe me. I bet you found the pickled hand on our thieving friend, right? And, you guys have my bag, yeah? I’ve got a jar of ointment in there, smells like bird shit, that will counteract the effects of a Hand of Glory.”
The throbbing vein subsided. A little. “It will, huh?”
“Take a look at that guy’s shiner and then tell me if you think I was frozen in my tracks.”