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1954 had been slow and somehow it came to a screeching halt near the end of June. Outside, the heat was bothersome and stifling and inside was even worse. The office building’s air conditioning didn't work and the ceiling fans merely stirred the hot air.
Raymond Gibson was sitting and sweating in his office and thinking about going home early when Rosie, the secretary he shared with his partner Brian McKenna, came bursting in like a police raid.
“Good news, boss! They got the air conditioning running and you got a client waiting!”
Each of those things qualified as great, not “good”, news.
“And,” she added in a much lower tone of voice, “she is one hot mama! Play your cards right and...” She was interrupted by the entry of Brian and the client. Rosie was right: the woman was dressed to the nines and Brian was already hot on her trail. The woman had on a very classy-looking dark grey dress with dark stockings and black pumps. Her long brunette hair and her makeup were flawless. The smell of money seemed to follow her into the room. It took a couple of seconds for Raymond to get around to noticing how upset the woman was.
“How may we help you, Miss...” his voice trailed off to prompt her into giving her name.
She answered in a rapid-fire way that made him wonder if she was even taking time to breathe: “Lloyd, Emily Lloyd. I need you to find my sister. She’s been missing for three days. Someone from homicide called me this afternoon to identify her body at the morgue, but it turned out to be someone else. The body had the wrong name!” She stopped and tried to regain control over her emotions and slow down a little. “I wasn't really worried too much until I got that call. Now I’m terrified!”
“Okay, ease up, sister,” Brian said. He was leering at the woman so openly that even Raymond was embarrassed. “Take a deep breath and tell us all about it.”
As it turned out, her older sister Rita was something of a “party girl.” She loved the New York night life a little too much and was known to disappear for a days at a time only to turn up in the company of some well-heeled gentleman. This time seemed no different until the pointless call came to go to the morgue. An overall “bad feeling” about the situation led Emily to seek help. A friendly homicide detective had recommended Raymond and so she headed straight for his office. She handed over a picture of her sister: a fabulous-looking blonde with lots of makeup and some expensive-looking jewelry.
“In fact,” Emily said, “people sometimes refer to me as ‘the ugly one.’” Considering how good-looking Emily was, this must mean her sister was a twenty on a scale of one to ten.
Emily paid a retainer up front from a fat wad of cash and Rosie gave her a receipt. Emily explained that she had been staying with Rita until she found a place of her own.
After a quick discussion with Brian, it was determined that Brian would keep tabs on Emily while Raymond looked for Rita. Later, Brian and Raymond would switch roles. With that decided, Brian took Emily to a safe place (his apartment, not always a safe place for an attractive young woman) and Raymond made a phone call to the police station.
He talked to a fat old homicide cop named O’Halloran that he’d known a long time. O’Halloran agreed to meet Raymond at the morgue. Raymond grabbed his suit coat and hat and left.
They met in the lobby of the morgue at about 2:30. “We've been trying to get back in touch with Miss Lloyd,” O’Halloran told him. They walked into one of the storage rooms and the cool air felt good to Raymond, but not at the expense of having to deal with the smell of chemicals and decay. An attendant pulled open a drawer containing a sheet-covered corpse. O’Halloran pulled the sheet partway back for Raymond. He compared the photo to the woman’s face just to make sure.
“There was a mix-up earlier,” O’Halloran explained with a good deal of embarrassment. “The drawers were mislabeled. Your client saw a different body. Her sister really is dead. The autopsy is later this afternoon. They are backed up really bad.”
A cold chill ran all over Raymond that had nothing to do whatsoever with temperature. “I was afraid of something like this. I was hoping I was wrong,” Ray said. He peeled the sheet all the way off. “I see no wounds of any kind. Poison? Head injury?”
O’Halloran brushed aside her long blonde hair from her neck and revealed a single puncture wound. It was as big around as a Franklin half dollar. Raymond let out a whistle.
“What made that crater?” he asked.
“We don’t know. Some of the boys thought maybe...” O’Halloran hesitated. “Well, never mind what some of the boys were thinking.”
Then he lifted and turned her right leg. “There’s also this,” O’Halloran said.
Raymond looked at the back of her calf and said, “Looks like some kind of a bite mark. Whatever it was, it has some really big teeth. What kind of an animal was it?”
“We don’t know that, either,” O’Halloran said under his breath. “We had a veterinarian take a look, but he didn’t know. We need to talk to Emily some more, but I don’t think it’s gonna help a whole lot. Her sister here..., well, you know. She was a wild one.”
“I’ll bring her in tomorrow. My partner’s got her and she's gonna take this hard. One question I forgot to ask is where'd you find her?”
“A beat cop found her in the alley outside her apartment building,” O’Halloran said.
Raymond went to Brian’s apartment. Brian seemed to be in a bad mood when he opened the door. “She’s in the bedroom,” he said with a surly tone, and led Raymond to Emily.
They went into the room and found her sitting at a bureau and looking out the window. Raymond said, “Miss Lloyd? I have some really bad news for you. Your sister really is dead.”
Emily put her head down on her folded arms and cried a little. Raymond was expecting weeping and wailing, but all she did was sob softly. “There was a mix-up at the morgue. They got it straight now. They want you to come in tomorrow morning and, uh, make an ID and any arrangements you gotta make.”
“I’ll do that,” she said without raising her head. “Please leave me alone for a little while.”
They left the room and closed the door. Raymond went to the living room and Brian sat down on the sofa and tuned in to a ballgame on the radio. Brian was a Marine during World War II and had a very bad temper. Raymond wasn't afraid of the big man, but he never deliberately antagonized him, either.
After a couple of minutes of the game, Brian said, “You stay here with her.” He paused. “I gotta get out o’ here. I've had all I can take of that dame for one day.” Then Brian grabbed a jacket and stormed out of the apartment.
Raymond went to the icebox and helped himself to a sandwich. He grabbed a root beer, even though he hated root beer, because that was all Brian had to drink that was cold.
Later, around eight o’clock, Raymond was snoozing on the couch when he was awakened by a loud knock on the door. Two uniformed police officers were at the door: one was in his mid-thirties and the other looked like he was twelve years old (to Raymond, anyway).
The older one said, “Is this the residence of Brian McKenna?”
“Mr. McKenna is dead. Are you family?”
Raymond could not believe what he’d heard. “No, I’m his partner. We were taking turns babysitting a client.”
“You want to come down and ID the guy?”
“Sure,” Raymond said. He went and knocked on Emily’s door and explained what was going on. “I don’t want you here alone. Come with me and the cops. That way I know you’re safe.”
On the way, he asked the older cop (his name tag said, “Officer Martin”) how it happened.
“I was told he died of gunshot wounds. That’s all I know.”
Emily waited with a uniformed officer while Raymond talked to a detective and wrote out a statement. Then Raymond went into the same morgue room he was in earlier in the day. Brian’s drawer was on the opposite side of the room from where Rita was kept. The morgue attendant opened the drawer labeled “McKenna, B”, and stared in amazement to find that it was empty.
“He was just here twenty minutes ago!” the man exclaimed. He walked to the other end of the room where a supervisor was sitting at a desk and eating a sandwich. “Hey, Bill! What happened to that McKenna guy that was brought in a little while ago?”
The supervisor put his sandwich down and said, “He’s still there far as I know.”
“Well, he’s not,” the attendant said, his voice rising a bit. “He’s gone!”
The two of them went into the room and started opening drawers looking for the body. About that time, O’Halloran entered with Emily Lloyd. O’Halloran said something to her that Raymond couldn't hear and then he opened her sister’s drawer. It, too, was empty.
That’s when full-blown chaos erupted in the room. Emily was crying, the morgue attendants were yelling, O’Halloran started yelling, and Raymond decided to step outside.
When the situation calmed down, there were investigators asking questions and no one had any solid answers.
It wasn't long before news photographers and reporters showed up and Raymond and Emily ducked out of the building. They went back to Raymond’s office and tried to collect themselves. Emily laid down on Raymond’s office couch and Raymond was lost in thought. Once Emily seemed to have regained her composure, Raymond asked her, “You got any thoughts on all this?”
“I really don’t know what to say,” she said. She didn't look anywhere near as flawless as she did earlier. Her hair was no longer neat and her makeup was smeared. She still looked good to Raymond, though.
“Let’s go to my place. If we stick together, maybe we can stay alive,” he said.
Raymond’s apartment was small and hot. He turned on a couple of fans and opened some windows. “Maybe that’ll help cool it off in here. I need a shower and some fresh clothes,” he said. “When I get done, we’ll go to your sister’s place and give you a chance to get some fresh clothes, too.”
When Raymond was ready, he came out and found Emily sitting just as he’d left her.
A quick trip to Rita’s apartment was made and Raymond was surprised to find that the place was run-down-looking and drab. The furniture looked worn out and the wallpaper was peeling in spots. The kitchen was almost empty and there was some spoiled hamburger meat in the icebox. He rubbed his hand across his chin. Rita’s living quarters did not match up with Emily’s expensive clothes and fat wad of cash.
Once Emily was ready, she came out with a suitcase. “I've got all my things together and I don’t ever intend to come back to this dump.”
They got in Raymond’s car and headed back to his office. They got stuck in traffic and Raymond looked at his watch. It was about eleven thirty P.M. “Let’s go back to my place and get something to eat. I need to think about what I want to do next and I need something to eat.”
They went back to Raymond’s apartment and they fixed sandwiches and soup and didn't talk much. After eating, he went into the living room and sat down on the sofa. Emily came in and asked, “Can I sit with you?”
Raymond said, “Sure,” and she sat down right up against him. She laid her head on his shoulder and sat there without moving or saying a word. They sat there a long while as Raymond was thinking.
Finally, he asked her if she’d like to lie down and try to get some sleep. She nodded and he directed her to his bedroom and he spent what little was left of the night on the couch.
The next morning, he asked her if there was any one guy in particular that Rita spent a lot of time with. She told him about a guy from Ellenville, New York named Clarence Varner. Varner also had a brownstone on the Upper West Side. He was a rich guy and acted a little weird. Emily had only met him once.
“Weird” was certainly an appropriate word for some of the crazy stuff that was happening. There were just too many moving parts for Raymond to put together.
“What say we ditch this place and go see the guy?” Raymond asked.
“I’m for it,” Emily said and off they went. They stopped off for breakfast and then went to Varner’s brownstone. No one answered the bell and Raymond looked in the windows. Satisfied that no one was there, they went back to the office. Raymond made some calls and talked to some contacts from the police department trying to get a line on Varner, but he came up empty. They ended up making a second trip to Varner’s brownstone, but got the same results as their first visit.
They ate dinner and Raymond worked the phones some more trying to find out anything he could about Brian’s death, Clarence Varner, and the disappearance of Brian and Rita’s corpses from the morgue. He didn't come up with anything useful at all. Yet another trip to Varner’s brownstone came up empty, too.
Around nine o’clock, Raymond finally decided to make the trip to Ellenville and see if Varner was at his home there. It took more than three hours to find Varner’s house. Emily had mis-remembered the address and they had to search for it. The house was an old two-story home that was gray and weathered-looking. The yard should have been mowed at least two weeks before and there was a bad smell coming from somewhere.
It was past midnight and Raymond was worn down by the long day he’d put in so far. There were no lights on in the house and Raymond decided to find a place to sleep for the night. He found a small boarding house in town and got a room for the night under the name “Mr. and Mrs. Jones”. Emily slept fitfully through the night and he sat in a chair and dozed intermittently. He woke up early and rousted Emily so that they could catch Varner at home if he was there. They drove over to the house and he left Emily in the car and told her to lock all the doors.
Raymond walked up to the door and knocked. He could tell someone was in the house because there were lights on upstairs and he could see through a window that someone was moving around. After waiting a couple of minutes, he knocked again. He checked his watch: it was 7:15 a.m. He knocked again. This time a sixty-ish, soft-looking man in a butler’s suit came to the door. The man did not look pleased. Raymond thought it was odd that the man would be in his butler’s get-up at this time of day.
“I’m sorry, sir, but Dr. Varner is not receiving guests at this early hour,” he said in a dismissive tone of voice and began to close the door. Raymond shouldered the door open and stepped inside anyway.
“That’s okay, Jeeves, he’ll see me,” Raymond said. The old man bristled at both the intrusion and the comment.
There was a wide staircase to Raymond’s right and he started for it. He heard a noise and looked over his shoulder to see “Jeeves” with a fire poker over his head and ready to bring it down on Raymond’s head. Raymond easily sidestepped the man’s clumsy swing and then put a stiff left hook in the butler’s face. The butler fell over backwards and didn't move. Raymond went up the stairs and on the second floor he saw a middle-aged man in a tweed jacket standing next to a ladder.
“I don’t know who you are,” the man said, “but I don’t have time for interruptions.” He then blew a whistle and Raymond’s world began to whirl. There, coming out from a side room, was Rita and Brian.
Both of them looked pale and their eyelids were barely open revealing bloody-red eyes. They were draped in sheets like the ones from the morgue. Raymond tried to say something, but couldn't find the words.
“My two ‘servants’ will take care of you. I have very pressing matters to attend to,” Varner said to Raymond and then he looked at his two recently-deceased helpers and ordered, “Kill him.” Then he climbed the ladder into the attic.
Raymond’s two undead foes came at him in a slow, shambling walk, their arms hanging loosely at their sides as they came at him. The smell of rotting flesh was strong.
“Wait, Brian...” Raymond said, but Brian gave no indication that he recognized Raymond at all.
As the two drew closer, they began to gnash their teeth at him and to reach out for him. He thought to himself that this was not a good time to realize that he had come up here unarmed. Rita grabbed his left arm and Brian grabbed his right and their strength was overpowering. As they began to pull at him, he realized it was useless to oppose their strength. Instead, he went in the same direction as their pull with a sudden move that pulled Rita off-balance and caused her to fall. As she slowly tried to get back on her feet, Brian hesitated. For a moment, he and Raymond locked eyes in a stare that made Raymond think that maybe there was something of Brian McKenna still in there. Raymond pulled loose from Brian’s grip and then the moment passed.
Raymond made a dash for the ladder to the attic and Brian was too slow to stop him. As Raymond was climbing, he saw Rita and Brian at the bottom of the ladder and unable to climb.
He stuck his head through the opening to the attic and looked around. He saw Varner stand over something that looked like a podium. On it was a huge book that was open almost halfway. Varner talked to himself in a loud voice, but Raymond couldn't understand a single word the man said. The next thing that got Raymond’s attention was a funny feeling, almost like static electricity. Raymond heard a noise and looked in the corner of the room and saw a large cage. In it was some kind of dark furry beast that he didn't recognize. It looked angry and bared its fangs and snarled. He noticed some sort of odd swirling motion in the air near Varner. He couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked like a small multi-colored disc of some kind. It began to expand quickly.
Varner was in full swing by this time. He spoke in a very loud voice and waved his arms. The disc was then about the size of a dinner plate and it made a roaring noise. Raymond didn't know what Varner was doing, but it didn't take him long to figure out that Varner had to be stopped.
Raymond walked up behind Varner and kidney-punched him just as hard as he could. The man yelled out and went down hard. Raymond sat down on top of him and started punching him in the face. “What the hell is going on here?” Raymond demanded.
Varner looked up at him and just laughed. “Your world is doomed!” Varner said. “It’s too late!”
Raymond looked at the spinning, roaring disc and realized that it wasn't a “disc” at all; it was a hole. It was a hole in the air and it was big enough and powerful enough by then to pull things into it. He saw an old dress get sucked into it, linger for a moment, and then disappear into the hole. Then he saw an old hat go in. He turned his attention back to Varner.
“What is that thing?” he said with fear and panic in his voice.
“It’s a gateway, fool!” Varner coughed a couple of times. “He is coming through that portal! Once it’s big enough, he will come through and this world will be conquered!” Then he laughed until Raymond got tired of it and started slapping him around.
“How do I stop it?” Raymond asked, but Varner never answered. Raymond thought for a moment, and then he said, “I bet I know how to fix you!”
He beat Varner until he was semi-conscious and then snatched him off the floor like a child and proceeded to stuff him into the hole. Varner screamed in pain and was stuck in the hole, suspended in mid-air. Raymond started kicking him and punching him until he was finally sucked into the vortex. After that, the hole closed up and the attic was silent again. Even the beast in the corner was quiet.
Raymond walked over and looked down the ladder. Rita and Brian were no longer reanimated; their bodies were in a heap at the foot of the ladder. Raymond started to go downstairs, but then he decided to go back and take the book.
As he was on his way out of the house, he looked for the butler but couldn't find him. When he stepped outside, he was surprised to see it was totally dark outside.
When he got to the car, Emily unlocked his door.
“Why is it dark?” he asked, afraid that it had something to do with Dr. Varner.
“The radio said there’s a total eclipse today,” she said. “It started around 7:30, but should be over soon.”
Raymond tossed the book into the back seat. He figured there was some kind of crazy connection between the eclipse and the gateway, but he had no clue what it was.
“Let’s get the hell out o’ here,” he said and drove away slinging gravel.
Once they were back in the city and life was (at least somewhat) back to normal, Raymond tried to see Emily. Unfortunately for him, she was too traumatized by the loss of her sister to have anything to do with him. After the third try, he gave up on her.
Turns out that the bodies of Rita and Brian had been stolen by an attendant at the morgue named Ralph Witherspoon. Varner had made arrangements with the attendant to obtain Rita’s body. Brian was just a bonus: a big muscular man who would make a good bodyguard.
Raymond forgot about the big book and it lay forgotten in his back seat for a couple of months before he got around to examining it. Once he did start checking it out, he discovered that it contained instructions for summoning members of a long-forgotten race of beings who were lurking somewhere beyond the universe we know. The only major requirement was a total solar eclipse.