Big John’s Last Deal
Big John leaned back in his chair, shined leather boots on his desk, feet crossed, with a grin on his face as big as Chet had ever seen. He snatched a glass of whiskey off the desk, raised to his lips and drained it in one gleeful gulp. It was late, almost midnight, and the moon shone bright through the slats of the blind over the window behind him.
Chet crossed his arms, leaned against the frame of the open doorway, and shook his head. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “You got the court order reversed.”
“Nope,” Big John replied and put the glass back on the desk. “I did something better.”
“Don’t tell me you had someone killed again. And you didn’t ask me to do it? I’m hurt, boss.”
Big John frowned. “Nah. Also, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
Chet rolled his eyes. Big John Marklinson, the richest man in Darkwater County, was not above killing someone who stood between him and a lucrative land development deal. He had buried three men himself in the past two years for his boss and he knew of at least two more who had simply disappeared. But if Big John hadn’t killed the people who had stopped his relocation of the Deep Rest Cemetery, he couldn’t imagine what else would make the big man so happy.
“Okay,” he said, as he walked over to Big John’s desk and pulled up a chair. “I’ll play. You broke some arms?”
“Kidnapping? Though I’m not sure who you’d kidnap. That pain in the ass lady didn’t have any family hereabouts. Neither did her father, the cranky old bastard.”
Big John shook his head. His jowls quivered with the movement and he giggled, a weird high sound that seemed to creep out of him and scrape off the metal walls of the trailer office.
Chet stomped on the floor. “Come on, John! What did you do? There’s no way you could have changed that judge’s mind and we didn’t have enough on him to blackmail him. So give. What?”
The big man slowly put his feet on the floor and leaned forward until his elbows were on the desk. He looked at Chet with unabashed glee. “I hired someone to handle the move anyhow!”
“Oh, come on now.” Chet narrowed his eyes. “The court order was very specific. And Judge Teague said in open court he’d call in the feds if you so much as moved a teaspoon full of dirt. No chance you got the heavy equipment and the men to run things in a day.”
“Have you ever heard of a necromancer, Chet? A warlock? A hoodoo man?” Big John rested his head in one hand and tapped the desk lightly with the fingers of the other. It was a sure tell to Chet that his boss not only believed that he had the upper hand but that he had the upper hand so completely that there was no reason for him to show a single moment of concern.
“No, John. Well, I mean, I’ve heard about them in old movies like with Vincent Price. They talk to dead people, right?”
John’s fingers tapped out a rhumba rhythm on the cheap desk. “More than talk, Chet. They can command the dead. Make them do stuff. I heard a rumor once there really is a necromancer, a crazy old man who lives down near Tumbolt, on the edge of that big lake down there. Rumor said he can make the dead get up and walk.”
“Now you’re crazy,” Chet exclaimed, then laughed. “Only one man ever raised the dead, or so the Presbyterians say. You’d better hope they’re not right, though, ’cause if they are, you and me got a lot of time coming in a very hot place.”
Chet’s laughter trailed off. His Aunt June was one of those Presbyterians and, just for a moment, he had a distinct memory of his Aunt, wiry and strong, kneading out bread dough and telling him how he needed to say his prayers twice a day or the Devil would take him. Big John’s talk was starting to worry him. It felt like the Devil, even though Chet had put all that God talk far from him a long time before he ever killed a man.
Big John stopped tapping his fingers and sat back in the chair. “I talked with the old man, Chet. He’s real. He showed me things. A dog, dead ten years. A…I guess you’d say it’s a zombie. Dead for sure. I knew the man. So did you. You helped sink him in that lake two years ago.”
“No way, boss. Seriously. There’s no way you sa–“
“I DID!” Big John thumped his ham hock fist on the desk and Chet thought he heard it crack. He thought he also heard a noise from outside, like someone walking up the gravel lane.
“That old man had raised Peter Wanamaker from the dead! He showed me the bullet wound that killed him. That wouldn’t have convinced me, Chet. Not in a million years. I’m too smart and he could have faked it. But he showed me the bullet from that sonofabitches body. It had the initials carved in it just like I did before I shot that lying pissant down! I HELD IT IN MY HAND!”
Chet couldn’t say anything at first. Big John had half risen to his feet. His eyes had that look that Chet recognized meant there was no joking now. Big John was deep into the business now and Chet had to be careful. The big man liked Chet, but he had liked a lot of people who were now dead, buried in concrete foundations, sunk in deep water, cut to pieces and fed to the hogs that Big John raised for just that purpose. He let the silence sit for a couple of moments. Outside, the wind pushed leaves around the construction site, the sound like shuffling of bare feet.
His boss looked at him, eyes dark and glittering, waiting for a challenge Chet has no desire to give. The wind kicked up again and something — trash or a stray empty concrete bag — brushed along the side of the trailer. Chet finally spoke.
“Okay. You met this…necromancer. What does that have to do with the court order?”
“Hee hee! That’s the beautiful part! You’ll recall that the court order prevents me or anyone else from moving any of the bodies from the graveyard. I can’t even, as the judge said, “use a single living human muscle to disturb any grave.” Big John was smiling again, on the verge of leaning back in his chair again. He had it pushed back almost against the window. His head scraped the metal blind and it seemed to rattle against the glass of the window.
“Yes. Fine. I remember that, but how…,” Chet stopped as it finally hit him. His eyed widened.
“Oh, John. You…hired…?”
“Yes! I hired the necromancer to make the bodies in the cemetery move themselves!” He laughed and pushed back. His chair hit the wall of the trailer and Chet would have sworn that he heard something outside, something that growled with anger. Big John stood up, his face alight with triumph.
Chet stood up as well and edged toward the door. “Boss, I don’t–“
“I did it, Chet, my boy! I hired that crazy old man for hardly any money at all. He promised he’d raise every single sonofabitch in that graveyard and make them walk wherever I wanted. He told me he could even make them dance a chorus line down Main Street if I felt a fancy too. Imagine that, Chet! Imagine that whole graveyard full of dead people prancing past that Judge’s house! Wouldn’t that beat all?”
“Boss, you didn’t–”
“Nah. I told him I didn’t care where they went so long as they got out of my cemetery. MY CEMETERY!” He laughed his high, screechy laugh again.
Chet had taken two more steps toward the door when he heard the noise of rattling and scratching at it that made his blood cold. He knew in that moment that the old necromancer had done just what he had promised. He had raised all the dead from the Deep Rest Cemetery and sent them to a new place. Big John told the old man he didn’t care where they went but he should have.
He should have.
A shadow moved against the window behind John. Chet didn’t even have time to shout a warning before a pair of arms, partially skeletal, partially hung with rotting flesh and old suit fabric, smashed through the glass and wrapped themselves around John’s fleshy next. Other arms reached through, all in some semblance of decay, and grabbed any part of the crime boss they could. His eyes went wide and his mouth made a small “o” as he inhaled in surprise, a rattling squeak that turned into a broad gasp as his boots left the floor and his upper body was pulled through the window and into a horror of tearing bare bones and furious gnashing teeth.
Chet looked around for a weapon but his time ran out as the trailer door bent and squealed and the hinges gave way. A stench rolled into the trailer, the smell of death and rot and worms and worse, that would have taken his breath away if he had not seen what filled the darkened of the torn-open door. Chet screamed as the former residents of the cemetery, angry behind any mortal measure at having their long rest disturbed, crawled and screamed and lumbered into the trailer. He tried to pray but, in his last moments, realized he had forgotten how.
Last night, during the usual create-along hosted by my friend and ace storyteller Sarah Werner, one of the very cool people mentioned she had to work on a journalism assignment. As I understood it, an issue arose in her town over whether a cemetery could or should be moved and it’s caused a bit of a ruckus.
Well, that struck me as a fine story prompt! In fact, it struck me so hard that I wrote this story in about an hour, give or take a few. Thank you for that, Poxi!
(Photo Credit: kalhh on Pixabay)