Red Tides

Jack Slade #7

by Richard Dawes

When a black magician takes up residence in Stanton, a city on the east coast, people begin to go missing. A dark rumor spreads to the effect that the magician ritually kills his victims to assimilate their power. When a young woman disappears under mysterious circumstances, Jack Slade, Demon Hunter, is called in to investigate.




Chapter One

Jack Slade stood at the broad plate glass window of his study, hands thrust into his trousers pockets, and looked out at the storm. The storm had raged all day; it was then just past midnight. The sky was black, with great roiling clouds lanced with crimson streaks of lightning. Sheet after sheet of wind-driven rain poured down on the drenched earth. He gazed beyond the riot of color that was his garden to the dark rampart of towering pines that marked the limits of his property. Their shadowed crests whipped by brutal winds, like black flames searing the blacker underbelly of billowing clouds.

He didn’t mind the storm; in fact, something deep within him responded to the force, fury, and power of unleashed nature. His grey eyes flashed with the same lightning that forked the sky. His blood raced to the rhythm of the storm-driven clouds. His nerves sang with the witch-song of the wind, and his heart pounded to the deep boom of the rolling thunder. The same electricity that danced in showers of glimmering red sparks through the black clouds charged his leanly muscled body. He breathed deep with a tingling sense of exhilaration, as if the dark power that drove the raging storm was the same power that fueled his nature and explained why it was in action and violence and battle that he felt most alive.

The sudden ring of the phone killed the mood. With a frown, he moved to the desk and picked up the receiver.


“Good evening, Jack,” said a cheerful voice.

“Good god!” Slade retorted irritably. “Can’t you grasp the concept of business hours? Isn’t it a little late to be disturbing me?”

“Jack.” His name was drawn out reproachfully. “You know our business operates on a twenty-four-hour time frame. And I am surprised that you, of all people, a night hunter, would insist on such a formality as business hours. After all, was I wrong in assuming that you would still be up and about?”

“All right,” Slade groaned. “You win. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Are you familiar with the city of Stanton?”

Slade thought for a moment. “If it’s the town I’m thinking of, I believe I’ve passed through it a few times when I’ve been on the east coast. It’s one, maybe two days drive north of where you are at headquarters.”

“That is correct,” the voice replied brightly. “There has been an incident of a mysterious nature in Stanton—the disappearance of a young woman—that the Chief was hoping you would look into for us.”

“Can you give me any details over the phone?”

“There is a file on its way to you by express mail as we speak with as many details as we have at present. Briefly, over the last few years, Stanton has become a hotbed of occult activity on the east coast. That activity is centered around a charismatic but rather mysterious personage, a magician of some sort who promises his disciples immense power if they do his bidding. Unfortunately, that bidding tends to be the murder of his rivals or anyone else who questions his authority.

“The particular case of interest to us is the recent disappearance of a young woman by the name of Susan Tilson. She was part of this magician’s group. When she discovered that violence was a requirement for advancement, however, she began to pull away. That is when she disappeared. Her sister, Janet Tilson, brought the case to our attention. Since the Stanton police department has been unable to make any headway on the case, she has requested our assistance. Janet will be your contact in Stanton. Her address and other relevant data are included in the file we mailed to you.

“The magician, whose name escapes me at the moment, seems to have real power. Which is to say, he does not appear to be a charlatan. For that reason, the Chief thought this is a case that you should handle. Once you have read the file, you are to travel to Stanton as quickly as possible, make contact with Janet Tilson, and do what you can to solve the case.”

“All right. I’ll leave as soon as I’ve read the file,” Slade replied, and replaced the receiver.

* * *

Slade sat at the polished mahogany table in his dining room, glancing over the file that reached him about dawn, while absently munching on a breakfast of eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toast placed on the table by Ellen, his housekeeper. Ellen was a widow somewhere in her fifties and had been with him for some years. The file was only two pages and contained a bare outline of information. Susan Tilson had been fascinated with mysticism and the occult since early childhood. About two years previously, a powerful magician by the name of Charles Stansfeld made his headquarters in Stanton, and began an occult group with the title, Society of the Black Light.

When Susan heard of it, she joined immediately. According to her sister, Janet, she was initially quite enthusiastic. Her attitude changed, however, when she discovered that the group engaged in some type of ritual violence. The victims seemed to be anyone who criticized Stansfeld, or members of the group who began to pull away.

Susan mentioned her fears to Janet. Shortly thereafter, Susan disappeared.

Janet went to the Stanton police, but after an investigation in which no evidence of foul play could be found, the case was turned over to Missing Persons, and the criminal division took no more interest. It was then that Janet brought the case to the attention of the Diamond Group, the security firm for whom Slade worked. Since Slade was Head of the Occult Section of the company, he was given the responsibility of finding out what had happened to Susan Tilson.

Slade munched on a piece of toast and gazed thoughtfully into space as Ellen cleared the dishes from the table. “I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks,” he said.

“Certainly, Mr. Slade,” she replied, and carried the dishes into the kitchen.

Slade went into his bathroom and brushed his teeth. Combed back his straight black hair, then stepped into the bedroom and threw his maroon dressing gown over the king-sized bed. He slipped a black silk shirt over his muscular torso. The bronzed skin was etched and puckered with scars from bullet, blade, and talon. Then he pulled a pair of dark trousers over his long muscular legs and shrugged into a black leather jacket. He tossed his .38 automatic, three boxes of extra cartridges, and a few changes of clothes into a tan leather traveling bag.

After a final good-by to Ellen, he stepped into the garage and climbed into his black Jaguar XJ. Kicked over the engine. Took a moment to listen to the deep throaty growl, then backed out and drove down the private road to the main highway heading northeast.

* * *

The storm of the previous night had abated, and he drove over a still-slick, two-lane highway beneath a dark canopy of drifting clouds. He spent hours passing through rolling grasslands that stretched to the horizons, the monotony broken by stands of oak, beech, and cypress trees. Fortunately, there were a few small towns along the highway, so he could stop occasionally to put gas in the Jaguar and stretch his legs. The further east, the more mountainous became the country. Foothills studded with black oaks gave way to the steep, pine- and fir-covered slopes of higher altitudes. The road wound up and up until it passed into clouds that lay like a fuzzy wet blanket over the rock girded peaks. The Jaguar drifted through a mystic twilight. The sky dissolved in a shimmering mist. The highway undulated in the glow of the headlights like a slick black serpent. Trees loomed like ghostly sentinels along each side of the road. Glowing cloud-mist dripped from nettled branches.

Slade passed onto a flat stretch where the mountains widened out into a narrow valley. He was startled to see a sign suddenly appear in the fog ahead, blinking like a great red eye, which read: Motel. Then a small town materialized, as if precipitated from the swirling mists that still blanketed the valley, with buildings lining each side of the highway. He breathed a sigh of relief. The gauge indicated that the gas tank was close to empty, and he needed to find a place to eat and stay for the night. If he got an early start in the morning, he should reach Stanton by late afternoon.

He pulled into the motel parking lot, cut the engine, climbed out, stretched his muscles and loosened his joints. Moving along the sidewalk with the electric power and easy grace of a big cat, he pushed through the glass door and entered the main office. A tall, lean, middle-aged man with thinning brown hair stood behind the counter.

As Slade approached, his brown eyes widened as they passed over his harsh features, cold grey eyes, and wide, thin-lipped mouth. Standing straighter, he asked, somewhat nervously, “Can I help you, sir?”

“I’d like a room for the night.”

“Certainly, sir.” He slid a form across the counter. “Just fill this out. Will this be credit card or cash?”

Slade pulled out his wallet. “Credit card.” As he filled out the form, he asked, “Where’s the best place to eat in town?”

“Well, at the eastern end of town, there’s a cluster of modern restaurants geared to tourists who pass through. But if you’re looking for the best local food, go across the road to the Pine Ridge Bar and Restaurant. They have the best steaks. It’s where locals, hunters, and loggers hang out. You know if the locals eat there, the food’s gotta be good.”

“Right,” Slade grunted. He nodded, picked up his key, spun around, and left the office.

He climbed the cement steps to the second floor, found his room, and let himself in. He tossed his traveling bag onto the bed and went into the bathroom. After glancing at himself in the mirror over the sink, noting that he looked haggard after a long day on the road, he turned on the water and washed his hands and face. Then he went back outside and locked the door behind him.


"Jack Slade: Red Tides" by Richard Dawes


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