They were met in the courtyard outside the shop by four assailants wearing the masks and armed with kukri. Tank could tell from their clothes that these were some of the youths they had negotiated with earlier. Two of the men leapt like gymnasts and landed before Tank. The other two ran toward Katie.
Tank met the attacker and combined his own momentum with that of the assailant. To his surprise, his fist punched straight through his target below the ribs, emerging covered with blood and gore. The other attacker was startled by the sight, but was committed to his overhand chop. Tank turned the limp body in the second assailant’s path and caught the blade with its skull.
Katie drew both of her automatics with practiced ease and fired off several shots in rapid succession and hit both attackers in the knee. They dropped to the ground screaming.
In the meantime, Drew turned to go back into the store, but the door was locked. He took a deep breath and kicked at the glass with the bottom of his shoe. It bounced off harmlessly leaving a footprint on the glass. Drew pulled out his pocket knife and jimmied the simple lock until the door opened. “Come on!” he shouted as he entered the shop. But four more of the youths, these without masks, emerged from the shadows. Tank leapt forward to engage them.
* * *
Katie tried to get a shot at one of Tank’s opponents, but was reluctant to shoot into the scuffle. Suddenly there was a gunshot, and she was knocked through the open door of the shop by the impact. A searing pain shot through her torso. She looked down to see blood soaking through her blouse. Ignoring the pain, she drew the red handkerchief from her jacket pocket, wadded it up, and pressed it to the wound.
“Dat looks bad,” Tank said as he crouched over Katie. “You’re gonna need a doctor.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Katie said through clinched teeth. “Protect Mr. Drew!”
“Not before I takes a look at dat leak.” Katie attempted to stop Tank, but the boxer took hold of her wrist and pulled it aside. Katie did not struggle. He carefully pulled away the blood-soaked handkerchief, and then started unbuttoning her blouse.
“You’re not going any further without a ring,” she said with a grimace.
“I ain’t getting stuck in no handcuffs,” Tank replied as he pulled the shirt clear. Katie winced as he poked at the area around the wound with a finger. “You’ll be OK,” he said when finished. “Da bullet is near the surface and din’t hit nothing. A doc’ll be able to get it out easy.”
“Fine,” Katie said tersely. “Find Drew!” Then as an afterthought, “what happened to the others?”
“They was palookas,” Tank said with a grin. “No sweat. Dey ain’t gettin’ up any time soon.”
* * *
There was no activity inside the shop, and no sign of Kaur. Drew walked quickly to the rear of the shop and through the door behind the counter. There was a small store room, but no signs of activity. As he was leaving, he noticed a pile of crates had been moved hastily, revealing a section of wood embedded in the concrete floor. He leaned into the crates to put his weight against them, but the stack slid easily, revealing a trap door.
Drew lifted the trapdoor up using a metal ring bolted to it. Beneath it was a ladder set into a circular pit in the concrete floor. He could not see the bottom, even by the light of his Zippo. Seeing a nail lying on the floor nearby, Drew picked it up and dropped it down the hole. There was a quiet ting a moment later, and Drew could see the nail on the floor below. Carefully, he climbed down the ladder.
At the bottom of the shaft was a tall but narrow tunnel, all made of concrete. At the far end there was a flickering light coming from an opening on the right that illuminated a large vase at the end of the hall. He could hear strange chanting from the room beyond.
Pocket knife in hand, Drew stepped stealthily toward to door. He noticed that the corridor was free of the dust and cobwebs one might expect. As he reached the threshold, a plume of smoke erupted from the vase and started to solidify into a large, skeletal creature with long, curved talons. Instinctively, Drew pulled out his handkerchief and started fanning the smoke, which dispersed a little, causing the creature to lose coherence temporarily.
* * *
Tank rushed behind the counter and noticed the exposed trapdoor in the storeroom. Then he heard Drew’s cry of surprise from below. Without hesitation, he climbed down the steps to discover Drew fanning a smoky creature with large claws set to disembowel him. Tank immediately ran up, pushed Drew aside into the neighboring room, and blindly hit the now solidified creature several times in the head. When he looked up again, the creature was gone and there were fragments of a large vase scattered on the ground.
Drew fell into the room and saw a thick metal lid drawn by heavy chains lift up to reveal a great pit in the floor. Chinmayananda Kaur, now dressed in a leopard skin and holding a scepter with a tusked skull at one end, chanted indecipherable words vehemently toward the opening.
As Kaur reached a crescendo, a similar yet alien sounding approximation of it came from the pit. Then a large amoeba-like blob that spawned and absorbed numerous eyes, mouths, pseudopods, and tentacles emerged.
“Oh,” Drew said in disgust. “Unsightly!”
At the sight of the creature from the pit, Kaur redirected his chanting at Drew, who suddenly moved toward the pit as in a trance. Several pseudopods reached out toward him.
Tank heard the strange chanting and the otherworldly reply. He ran into the room and pushed by Drew to disable the thing. Tank punched it, but his fist sunk into the surface, where it started tingling. He withdrew it quickly and shook away the sting.
“Dat’s not fair,” Tank said with irritation, and looked around for an opponent he could hurt. He spied Kaur chanting in the corner and stepped purposely toward him. Kaur diverted his attention to Tank, but the boxer threw an uppercut and effortlessly knocked Kaur out.
Drew suddenly regained his senses. He recoiled from the grasping appendages. He followed the chains to the wheel mounted on the wall and released the chock holding it in place. The heavy metal cover slammed down hard with a solid thud severing several appendages that writhed briefly on the cement floor before disintegrating.
* * *
Footsteps resounded from the corridor and Inspector Olsen and five policemen with their revolvers drawn stormed into the room.
“Nobody move!” one of the officers shouted.
“I think you’ll find we have things in hand, Inspector,” Drew said as he turned with his hands at his sides. Tank followed suit.
“I can see that,” Olsen said flatly. “Want to tell me what’s going on here? We found Miss O’Hare, six dead men and two unconscious ones outside. She says they attacked you and you defended yourselves by hiding in here.”
“That fellow,” Drew pointed to Kaur, “is some kind of mad voodoo priest, and those men outside are his followers.” He glanced toward the now covered put. Olsen followed his gaze. “They were performing ritual murders to…”
“Dey was killin’ folks to appease dere god,” Tank interrupted. Redirecting the inspector’s attention.
“I think you’ll find that these folks also killed Parker Maxwell,” Drew added. “He discovered their secret and had to be silenced.”
In the meantime, the police officers handcuffed the unconscious Kaur and were now dragging him from the room.
Olsen nodded. “I see.” He surveyed the scene. “I’ll need you to come downtown to make your statements. Miss O’Hare was taken to Bellevue. I’ll take you there on the way to the precinct.”
“That would be very kind, Inspector,” Drew said with a nod.