Kiling John The Baptist

A Nicholas Branson Novel #2

by Matthew Peters

The gruesome murder of a U.S. presidential aide. A secret so terrible it will change the world. Can Nicholas Branson and Jessica Jones discover the awful truth in time to save a persecuted religious group from extinction? Or will they be thwarted by a megalomaniacal pope and an ultra-secretive U.S. governmental force?






Chapter One


On a Friday night in mid-October, Sandy Blitz slouched against the back of a plush booth. He could hardly believe he was in a gay bar, but his highly trained senses told him otherwise. Musky cologne mingled with smoky incense stung his nose. Blaring glam rock flooded a large dance floor where drunken men twisted sinuously. High above, oil-glistened hunks strutted along a garishly lit catwalk, while pretty waiters in bleached briefs swirled past close enough to touch, their images reflected in long, gilded mirrors that also showed Blitz his encroaching baldness.

The atmosphere repulsed him as much as his rapidly receding hairline. He couldn’t have cared less that the DC club, with its shrine to Liz Taylor and the imprimatur of multiple AIDS charities, was the east coast version of West Hollywood’s famous gay bar, The Abbey. The secret aide to the now lame-duck president, Charles Clark, knew he was more than a little tipsy, but even that didn’t diminish his distaste. His great-aunt Bess would’ve called this scene “common,” the strongest language she allowed for things deemed vulgar, or worse yet, wanton. And this place was definitely, definitively wanton. As he ran a hand along the top of the booth, he hit a sticky patch and recoiled.

“Another Scotch, or maybe something else?” Blitz’s sassy waiter murmured, his narrow hips rocking back and forth to the music of Gary Glitter. The huge bulge under his tighty-whities backed up his offer.

Blitz wavered for a second, then tapped the rim of his empty glass. Pouting sweetly, Mr. Sassy Pants turned and sashayed toward the bar. The tight roundness of his ass remained imprinted on Blitz’s mind long after the waiter vanished from sight.

Alone and uncomfortable, Blitz chastised himself for drinking too much, even more so than usual. Practically every day since getting home from Afghanistan ten months ago, he’d chugged a liter of Glenfiddich, sometimes more, to…to...well, to assuage his loneliness, as he told himself. Yes, goddamn it, he hated to admit it, but he was lonely. It’d been years since he’d had a steady lover and even some time since he’d hired a companion…

But tonight, that was coming to an end.

A few months back, he’d stumbled upon a chat room that catered to his fetish. That’s where he’d met Philippe. One single indiscretion was followed by many more. Salami tactics, Blitz reflected, and chuckled. Despite his laugh, he knew the truth. Everything had begun to change when he “met” Philippe. Over the months, their virtual relationship had fostered an intimacy Blitz had never known. Philippe filled the aching, well-scoured hollow in the pit of Blitz’s being, the one he’d tried to fill with booze. And tonight, they were going to meet in the flesh for the first time.

Well, they would meet, if Philippe ever showed.

Blitz glanced at his watch. Twenty-five minutes after ten: Philippe was nearly half an hour late. If there was one thing Blitz couldn’t abide, it was tardiness. Aunt Bess rose up in his memory again, reminding him of Shakespeare’s words, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” Maybe he should just leave. Fuck Philippe anyway. Who did he think he was?

Wait a minute. Fuck Philippe?

Yes. Fuck him, indeed.

Blitz squirmed against the worn velvet seat. He couldn’t really walk just now. So, things being what they were, he wouldn’t stand Philippe up—at least not yet. But he’d make sure he’d get his comeuppance one way or another. You could bet your life on that.

Sassy Pants arrived with another Scotch. “Well, if you’re sure there’s nothing else I can do for you, dearie...” he flirted.

Blitz shook his head and chugged the amber liquor, welcoming its warmth and the oblivion it brought. As he watched the waiter’s firm ass saunter away, his attention was captured by a slender man just coming in the door. As if on cue, the music stopped and the room fell silent. The catwalk’s spotlights captured the man in its beam. Eyes followed his progress through the room. Philippe Tangier had arrived.

Blitz saw a younger man stride toward him, long and lean, still in his prime, cinnamon locks curling slightly at the temples. But in the corner of Philippe’s mouth, and the blinking of his eyes, lurked something almost crestfallen. Blitz remembered him saying that he, Blitz, was the strongest, most dominant man he’d come across “in many an ether moon.” Men who quoted poetry, who felt things too deeply, needed sheltering. And Blitz was just the man to take care of, to protect Philippe. He would take charge of him as one took charge of an underling and keep him safe from harm.

Blitz caught Philippe’s eye, and patted the spot next to him. Philippe smiled softly, tilted his head in acknowledgment, and slipped into the booth. A sheen of perspiration on the younger man’s brow told Blitz he wasn’t alone in his nervous excitement.

“‘Did my heart love till now?’” Philippe whispered in a velvety baritone. “‘Forswear it, sight, for I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.’”

“Ssh.” Blitz put a finger over the man’s soft, full lips. The anticipation of sexual arousal had sobered him some. “Only speak when you’re spoken to.”

Philippe lowered his head, then looked up with doe eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“Manners, young man,” Blitz reminded him. “How do you address your superiors?”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

The titillating thrill those words caused promised good things to come. “Better. Now, this place doesn’t suit. We need to leave. While we’re in my car, you will be blindfolded. Afterward, I’ll make sure you’re returned here. Understood?”

Philippe nodded, wide-eyed.

Blitz took a hundred dollar bill out of his wallet and tucked it in the front of his waiter’s briefs as they strolled by.

Twenty minutes later, a blindfolded Philippe sat quietly next to Blitz in the front seat. Blitz forced his eyes to stay on the dark road, watching for his turnoff. He smiled as he passed the sign for Glen Dale. At the next turn, he swung the car into the narrow roadway and slowed to a crawl. Minutes later he reached the high gate set into the even higher brick wall. He rolled down his window and punched in the access code. The metal gate soundlessly retracted and he guided the silver Audi RS6 into the brightly lit development of lavish, custom-built homes.

“We’re almost there,” Blitz said, breaking the silence of the journey, and wondering if he should bother using a jimmy cap. After all, this was a relationship. Besides, he hadn’t found any health issues in his investigation of Philippe. His soon-to-be lover in the flesh was a single, successful investment banker involved in his church. This last had struck Blitz as odd, until he discovered the church was a small group of gay men, including the pastor, which met every week to discuss the difficulties they faced in an unwelcoming world. Blitz was just glad Philippe wasn’t Catholic. He’d had gracious plenty and then some of the Church of Rome.

Blitz pulled into his driveway. The garage door opened silently. Once inside, he killed the engine, then made his way to the passenger’s side. When he opened the car door, Philippe swung himself around, stretching out his long legs, and setting his soft leather loafers on the clean concrete. Blitz grabbed the younger man’s elbow a bit more roughly than he’d intended, and led the blindfolded Philippe inside. Blitz flicked on a small lamp sitting on the antique bureau just inside the door.

Blitz heard a sound behind him. Fabric dropped over his head, shrouding him in darkness. His heart banged against his rib cage, and his breath came in jagged gasps through the slit in the rough cloth. Then a powerful force slammed into his gut, whooshing air from his lungs. As his body crumpled to the floor, strong arms held him upright then dragged him into what he assumed was the kitchen. Something hard rammed the backs of his knees, forcing him to sit. His legs were jerked back and his ankles lashed to the chair legs. A warm trickle of urine soaked his groin as his wrists were bound behind him.

“There now,” Philippe said behind his ear. No longer was it the soft, subservient voice from the club. The sapling had become an oak tree. “I think it was Bertrand Russell who said religion is based on fear, and fear is the parent of cruelty. It’s little wonder cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand across the ages. So, tell me, you filthy vermin, are you a religious man?”

“Fuck you!” Blitz blurted, struggling to break free. Philippe’s betrayal intensified his anger, as did the fact that he hadn’t found out the truth about Tangier, and had allowed himself to be duped.

“My guess is that you are not religious,” Tangier said. “But one need not be religious to be afraid. There are things of this world that are frightening…very frightening, indeed. Take it off.”

The hood was removed. Lights glared off sheets of clear, heavy plastic covering the kitchen floor, the cabinets, even the ceiling. Laid out along the granite-topped island, reflecting the lights in sharp rays, rested a set of shiny instruments. Tangier stood in front of Blitz flanked by two men in suits. All three looked so composed they could’ve been soliciting venture capital.

Tangier leaned in close so his nose nearly touched Blitz’s. “Where’s Jezebel?”

“Who’s Jezebel?” Blitz spat. “And just who the fuck are you?”

“An avenging angel,” Tangier whispered in Blitz’s ear. “Now, answer my question.”

“I don’t know,” Blitz barked. But of course he did. This was about the book the pain-in-the-ass Jesuit and the bitch found in the cave in Afghanistan, the book that threatened the authority structure of the Roman Catholic Church. Was this man before him connected to the Church?

“One last chance: Tell me where Jezebel is,” Tangier demanded.

Blitz hacked and spat in his face.

Tangier pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped off the spit. “Let’s get on with this,” he said. “Take off his shoes and socks.” He strutted to the island, picked up a nutcracker, and handed it to one of the men. “Big toes first.”

Blitz felt the nutcracker’s icy coldness surround his toe. The sensation of cold vanished as he heard a sharp crack and excruciating pain shot through his foot. Something clicked in Blitz’s mind, as if a switch had been flipped. He took a deep breath, then another, and another. He forced his mind out of the kitchen, away to his safe place, which he hadn’t visited in years, the place he’d retreated to when his parents fought, when classmates had belittled him, when he’d needed to escape the often threatening here-and-now. He saw his tropical island with its luxuriant palm trees and sugar-white sand, and watched the blue water lap against the shore. Somewhere off in the distance he felt an occasional ache, a faint throbbing in his feet, but the pain seemed far away. Blitz watched from the safety of his private island while one by one, his toes were broken. Every now and then he heard someone mumble something, but the words came out garbled, like a worn-out tape.

Over the course of what seemed like hours, the dull ache in Blitz’s feet and legs moved to a more fiery pain in his fingertips. It’s getting harder and harder to see my island. That’s because they’re ripping out your fingernails with pliers. He concentrated harder and forced himself to collect seashells from his beach, to focus on the palm fronds moving in the sea breeze, to strum his old, imaginary ukulele, and hum songs learned in childhood.

He was wrenched from the island when something hot came toward his face. He opened his eyes to see the branding iron, just before it seared his forehead and left him screaming in the painful present.

“Bring it out,” Tangier called, snapping his fingers.

A short, shot glass of a man emerged from the living room, carrying a nightmarish version of a nutcracker. When Blitz saw it, he realized that until now his pain had been nothing compared with what was in store.

“Do you know what this is?” Tangier asked, taking the instrument from the little man.

Blitz focused on a spot across the room, trying with whatever strength he had left to return to his private island.

Tangier answered his rhetorical question. “It’s a head crusher. Very simple. Very effective.” He stroked the large metal handle that turned a huge screw with a small cap at its bottom. “It was used to great effect during the Inquisition. Your chin rests here.” He patted a metal plate below the cap. “The screw is turned and the cap comes down, down, down for as long as it takes.” He forced Blitz’s chin on the metal plate. “Now, all we do is turn the handle like so.”

Blitz groaned. The pressure was intense, but so far, the pain was manageable. He stole a furtive glance at Tangier. He couldn’t help but notice the enormous bulge in the crotch of his trousers. Just slip back to the beach. Watch the sea wash along the sand.

The handle turned again.

Fire flooded Blitz’s brain, ripping him away from his torturer, wiping beach, ocean, and sand from his mind, clearing his consciousness of everything except the poker of pain that seared through him. A primordial moan escaped his throat.

“Good,” Tangier’s voice hummed. “Perhaps you’re ready to cooperate.”

Blitz’s tear-filled eyes darted around the room. That copper saucepan, oh beautiful. That kettle. Those towels with the little flowers, all the lovely things that belong to that other world where nothing like this ever happens.

“Still tight-lipped?” Tangier said. He tightened the cap.

Pain and warm salty liquid filled Blitz’s mouth. He coughed then spat out a spray of blood and shards of teeth.

“Blink twice if you’re ready to talk,” Tangier instructed.

Blitz blinked only once and a new, indescribable pain coursed through his head.

“You’re...” Blitz garbled, blood oozing, broken teeth cutting his tongue.

“I’m what?” Tangier said.

“An asshole.”

The pressure ratcheted up. The pain skyrocketed.

Blitz summoned up what was left of his strength and blinked twice. The cap backed away ever so slightly.

“I forgot something,” Blitz gasped.

“Ah, yes, I’m sure,” Tangier said.

“You’re a fucking asshole,” Blitz managed.

“Got it,” a voice called from the living room.

“Good,” Tangier said.

Then an intense pressure blossomed behind Blitz’s eyes. Anguish reigned, and a final, dark curtain descended.

"Killing John the Baptist" by Matthew Peters


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