Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Hunters Three: An Experimental Story

The Hunters Three
by Alan Loewen

Ryan Laughman steered his Mazda CX-3 past the wrought iron gates and whistled in surprise when he saw the mansion. Trained in strategic thinking, he visually absorbed the scene and filed away his assessments. The building served as a beautiful example of the Gothic Revival, probably from the late-18th century. Built for its aesthetics and not practicality Ryan knew the owner would have money and lots of it. He also noticed two other cars parked near the entrance, a Jeep Renegade and a Lexus CT 200h. The former had to be driven by a man who enjoyed the outdoors, but the latter? Possibly a man or woman who had a practical need for speed.

He parked his car next to the others and ascended the steps. The door opened before he could ring the bell. "Mr. Laughman? Welcome to Dark Oak Manor. May I see your letter of introduction?"

Ryan reached into his front coat pocket and pulled out a letter typed on foolscap. "I believe this is what you wish?"

The butler gave it a cursory glance. "Thank you, sir. Would you kindly follow me? Dr. Lascaris will meet you and our other two guests in his library. Refreshment is available."

Ryan followed the servant into a hall of bright chestnut and mahogany, past a grandfather's clock of impressive antiquity to a set of pocket doors. Sliding them back, Ryan took in a vast library brimming with books. Two men stood at either side of the room pretending to ignore each other as they feigned interest in the various knick-knacks aesthetically littered about. Both men looked up when Ryan entered.

"And what may I get you in the arena of liquid refreshment, sir?" The butler asked. 

"Rum. Straight up. No ice," Ryan said.

As the butler turned to the small bar, Ryan took in the other two guests. The one stood tall and thin, the other man heavy set, but muscular. Ryan smiled.

"You, sir," he said to the thinner of the two, "drive the Jeep Renegade parked outside. I perceive that you are a hunter."

"You have the advantage over me," the man replied. "May I ask how you have deduced that?" 

Ryan pointed to the book in his hand. "You are holding an excellent copy of Theodore Roosevelt's The Wilderness Hunter that you found on the shelves. Probably 1st edition. From all the books available for your perusal here, the topic must be dear to you. You also are drinking Jagermeister, more from tradition than desire as the taste is horrendous and therefore acquired, yet still fancied among hunters. You also sport a tan showing an active outdoor life."

The man smiled. "Bravo, good sir. You are a regular Sherlock Holmes. What can you deduce about our companion?"

Ryan glanced at the man. "A man of disciplined action and we shall leave it at that." Ryan did not mention that the drink the man held remained untouched as if he was prepared for sudden action and wanting to be unhampered by the effects of alcohol. Also, he carried his left arm away from his body just a fraction of an inch more than his right, undoubtedly to make room for a sidearm in a three-piece shoulder holster.

The door opened, and an elderly man entered. "Gentlemen," he said. "Welcome." The man wore a dark blue velvet smoking jacket. His poise spoke of money and his face and voice, though friendly, conveyed an aura of authority. "As you know from your respective letters, I am your host, Dr. Beatus Lascaris." He turned to the butler. "Thank you, Silas. That will be all." With a barely perceptible nod, the butler excused himself from the room.

Dr. Lascaris turned back to his three guests. "As promised in your letters of invitation, you each will receive $5,000 in cash simply for coming and listening to my request. Yet if you stay, may I assure you much, much more in financial gain. Please be seated."

Ryan took a seat in an overstuffed leather chair while the thin, tall guest sat on the couch. The other guest remained standing.

"Have you introduced yourselves to each other? No? Then allow me the honor." He motioned to the man seated at the couch. "Allow me to introduce Mr. Riley Parks. Mr. Parks is best known for his skills in tracking an exotic type of prey and eliminating them from the earth."

Riley raised his glass. "And, retired, good sir. Though I have no idea why you called me here, it is unlikely you will be able to call me back into that particular service."

Lascaris smiled. "I think I can offer you a hunt that will be the crowning achievement of your career,  Mr. Parks, but more on that later."

He gestured toward Ryan. "Mr. Ryan Laughman," he said. "An interesting example of a self-taught strategist and a master of game theory. Presently you make a living for yourself playing game tournaments, board games that require a level of sophistication and professionalism not many other players can claim."

Ryan nodded in agreement.

"And finally, may I introduce Mr. Wesley Lowe, not," he paused in emphasis, "his real name. Let us say that Mr. Lowe recently lent his services to a worldwide cabal and he has since left their employment and now works as a free agent."

"An assassin," Ryan said quietly.

Lowe visibly tensed. "Best to say," he said, his calm voice belying his visible tension, "an assassin of assassins. I rid the world of those who would kill innocents."

"My apologies, sir," Ryan said. "An ethical assassin more akin to a knight of old or, a better symbol, a samurai."

Lowe relaxed. "An apt description," he said. Lowe raised the drink in his hand to gain their host's attention. "Before we continue, a quick question." He turned to Parks who sat on the couch, a neutral expression on his face. "By your introduction, Mr. Parks is a former hunter of exotics. I would like to know what he once hunted."

Riley spoke up. "With all due respect, I do not think you would believe me."

Lowe smiled grimly. "Try me."

Riley smiled and took a sip from his glass. "I hunted werewolves." He locked eyes with his questioner as if daring to challenge him. Lowe merely shrugged and took a seat in another leather armchair.

"So," Ryan said, "Dr. Lascaris you have gathered together an honorable assassin, a hunter of cryptids, and a master of strategy. Pray, what do you wish us to do for you?"

Dr. Lascaris laughed. "You do not, what is the expression? Beat around the bush? I have asked you to come and work together for a common cause that will save the world.

"I want you to kill my wife."


"You play a dangerous game, Lascaris," Lowe said sharply. "I told you I do not hunt innocents and with that statement, you removed yourself from that category." He stood up from his seat. "I can kill you five times over and you would screaming your lungs out in Hell before your body hit the floor."

Lascaris raised his hands slightly. "Maybe I should explain in greater detail. I assure you that my wife is far from innocent. Please be seated and allow me to explain."

Warily, Lowe regained his seat. "Please delight and entertain us," he said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. 

"Each of you is here for a logical reason. You, Mr. Lowe, are a trained killer and my wife is a direct threat not just to me, but to the world as a whole. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but soon I will show you proof of my claims.

"I asked Mr. Parks to join us because my wife is not human. Again, give me the gift of time. I can prove my assertions to all of you beyond any doubt." He motioned to Ryan. "And I am particular need of Mr. Laughman because my wife resides in a place that has its unique wards and guardians."

"Not human?" Lowe asked. "You're asking us to take much on faith."

"Well," Dr. Lascaras responded, "Let's ask Mr. Parks." He turned to the hunter. "Sir, do monsters exist?"

Riley paused only for a moment. "Yes," he said. "They exist. I have killed a number."

Lowe snorted in derision. "And since you're retired I suppose you've killed them all?"

Riley shrugged. "I retired for personal reasons."

Lowe pointed his finger at Ryan. "And you? What do you make of all this."

Ryan paused a moment as if gauging his response. "The question of monsters is of no importance to me. I deal with strategy. If I feel that the good doctor has a legitimate stake in the game, I am willing to assist him to reach a satisfactory ending. However, I stress that his claim must be legitimate."

"Then, gentlemen," Lascaris said, "since you demand and deserve proof allow me to provide it. Would you kindly follow me to the basement? And Mr. Lowe, please feel free to determine in what order we shall go down the stairs." He turned and slid the pocket doors open. "The cellarway is to the right."

The three men followed their host into the vestibule to a large oak door. "The house is old," Lascaris said, "and the stairs are steep. We will first walk through the wine cellar into the cellar proper. That is where my proof stands."

He turned to Ryan. "And I understand Mr. Laughman that you are quite the expert in fine wine. I have a 2013 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva and should you and the others stay for dinner, I would be delighted to open a bottle for you."

"Most generous," was all that Ryan said.

The cellar stairwell was as steep as Lascaris had warned, the ancient brick giving way to cold, damp, rough-cut stone. At the bottom, they walked through the racks of wine bottles to another door. Lascaris flipped on an electric light switch, opened the door, and walked through.

A blast of cold, damp air struck the three men following Lascaris, making them stop in surprise. A small naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling barely illuminated the room beyond. Their host did not pause, but walked to the center of the room. He turned and motioned to the wall on his right. "Here," he said, "is my proof."

Lowe entered first followed by Parks and Laughman. The trio stopped as the far right wall came into view.

The far wall had a hole in it, one that was completely black, ten feet high and large enough for four men to walk abreast rent the far right wall. A cold, damp wind poured from it carrying with it an unpleasant aroma.

"What is this?" Ryan asked.

The doctor looked at the glowing portal, his face unreadable. "It is a portal my wife created," he said calmly. "And it is through that my wife went taking my son and daughter with her."

"Where does it go?" Lowe asked.

Lascaris shrugged. "I believe it goes to the ruins of a basement in Istanbul in Turkey. In history, the city was originally known as Byzantium and later, Constantinople. It is not a random event that my wife fled back there."

"And you want us ..." Riley began to say.

"Yes," Lascaris interrupted. "I want you to enter that portal, search for the horror that called itself my wife for sixteen years and kill it. Also if possible, bring my children back to me. They might still be redeemable."

* * *

Back in the library, Lascaris poured stronger drinks for everybody without asking. 

Lowe was the first to speak. "Now here will be an interesting tale," he said. "You have my attention."

Lascaris sat down his hands clasping his glass of whiskey so tight, his knuckles had turned white. "Here is the short version first. My wife is an efreet. Do you know what that is?"

Ryan spoke up. "They are creatures from Islamic mythology," he said. "Living on the Plane of Fire, they are part of the Jinn, but that is all I know."

Lascaris nodded. "You are correct. Allow me to enlarge your understanding. The Lascaris bloodline can be traced back to Constantinople in the 6th century. During the reign of Justinian the First, my ancestors were tasked to rid the Byzantine Empire of specific creatures that were inimical to the reign of the good emperor. You see, the jinn existed long before the Prophet Muhammad appeared. Not all the Jinn were evil, but the jinn known as efreets hated the human race.

"My forebears were successful in their attempts to purge the efreets from the empire, but the efreets cursed my family line. I am the last of the Lascaris name." He took a gulp of his drink and paused for a moment. "However, the efreets came up with a more creative way to enact their revenge. One of them assumed human form, wooed me, and I married her. Her deceit was so subtle and so clever, I never knew I had a monster under my own roof." He paused again. "She gave me a daughter as well as a son to carry on the name, but little did I know they were monster hybrids. A month ago when she revealed to me what she was, she created the portal you saw below, mocking me, and saying my living with regret served as a far more suitable punishment than outright death. But there are laws in effect that govern the efreets and their interaction with this world. She seeks to circumvent those laws with our children. She hopes to use their hybrid status as a way to bypass the safeguards that have been in existence since the creation of the world and allow a new race of evil to destroy the world and upset an eons-old balance."

He looked up from his glass. "So what say you? Will you help me save the world and perhaps save my children?"

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