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C’est La Vie, Johnny Black
C’est La Vie, Johnny Black
(Book Three of the Johnny Black, Soul Chaser Series)
by J.J. Zep
PUBLISHED BY: JJ Zep Copyright © 2012 www.jjzep.com
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.
Prologue Those of you who have followed my adventures up til’ now will know that I am Dexter Blackwell, a clerk in the Accounts Receivable department at the Hades Corrections Corporation. You’ll also know that by some weird twists of fate, I got to work a couple of cases for the SPAA, the Soul Pursuit and Apprehension Agency, using the alias, Johnny Black. On my first mission, I apprehended Freddie ‘Fingers’ Finnegan, a two-bit hood from 1920’s Chicago, on the second, I tracked down General Tulius Bacchus, a hedonistic Roman general from 44 minus (that’s B.C. to you folks still amongst the living). The success of my second mission, however, came at a cost. Commodus, Roman emperor from the year 180 plus, gave me the slip. He’d been brought along on the job (illegally, I might add) by Jitterbug, a redfaced imp who sometimes assists me. Now, Commodus was a soul on the run, escaped down a portal to a time and place unknown, and I had the task of tracking him down, this time without my able assistant. Oh, and did I mention that on this mission I’d have to find my own host (a dead body to occupy), and that Mr. Abaddon, the second most senior demon in hell, and head of the SPAA, was after my blood?
I know this must all sound quite complicated, but we lead pretty twisted lives here in hell. Read on and all will be explained. You join me, as I’m about to set off on my next mission.
un I stepped into the pool of yellow-brown water and immediately felt myself falling without resistance. Jitterbug had said that the sub-shaft was halfway down, but it would have been pointless to try and stop myself on the descent. Instead, I let myself fall all the way down, through the reversal and the upward surge that deposited me back in the tepid waters of the Tiber. Then I simply turned around and swam back into the portal. The ascent was much easier to control, I allowed myself to rise using my outstretched arms to control my upward movement. About halfway up, I found the shaft that Commodus had escaped through. It was on the left, not the right as Jitterbug had insisted, but everything else about his description was spot on, the water was indeed green and cold and slimy. Nonetheless, I entered the shaft and was instantly pulled along in a surge of bubbles, as though someone had suddenly strapped a jetpack to my back. I accelerated through the tunnel, which made a series of violent dips and twists, before depositing me into the cold, murky waters of a river. I had no idea where I was and I looked frantically around, half expecting
some ravenous aquatic beast to rise from the depths and swallow me. When none appeared I drifted to the surface to get a look at my surroundings. Wherever I was, whenever I was, I was most certainly not in prehistory. There were people on the riverbank, buildings and market stalls. The smoke from a thousand fires smudged the blue sky and there were shouts and curses and laughter and the rumble of hooves and steel wheels on cobbled streets. “Put him in the drink and be done with it!” I heard someone shout followed by a cheer from many voices. In the next moment a cart pulled up to the bank, and a crowd quickly surrounded it. Four men jumped into the bed of the cart and hoisted something aloft - a body. The men grabbed the corpse by its arms and legs and carried it to the river’s edge. Once there, they started to swing the cadaver back and fore, no doubt hoping to get some distance on their throw. “Un, deux, trois, quatre,” the crowd counted and then cheered as the body was tossed in. It hit the water with a flat slap and immediately started to sink, probably weighed down in some way. I dived and followed it down, hardly able to believe my good fortune at finding a host so quickly. As I approached the corpse though, I quickly realized that it wouldn’t do. This
man was missing his head, and although it would probably have been quite possible for me to walk around headless, I had a hunch that it might cause some distress amongst the local populace. In the next moment, the unfortunate man’s head drifted slowly down and came to rest on the muddy river bottom. Whoever had killed him, had removed the head with a single clean cut. But that wasn’t my concern now, my concern was to find a host, preferable one with a body that was still intact. The pull of the river was quite gentle, so I allowed myself to drift slowly downstream, floating near the surface to try and get a fix on where, and when, I was. The surrounding buildings looked old, urban, and European, and based on the snatches of conversation I heard, I soon came to the conclusion that I was in a French city, possibly Paris, sometime during the seventeen or eighteen hundreds. It was quite pleasant drifting along on the current, especially as the buildings along the riverbank began to give way to trees and the polluted water of the Seine (if I was right about Paris, it had to be the Seine) gave way to cleaner, clearer waters. I felt myself being lulled into sleep and suddenly realized how much my recent Roman adventure had taken out of me.
My rest was short-lived, though. As I drifted around a clump of reeds, I came face to face with a large fish, lying in ambush. The predator swiftly separated itself from the shadows and darted towards me, jagged mouth gaping. I abruptly remembered that, in my current state, the fish wouldn’t see a man floating in the water at all. What he’d see was my soul, which to a fish would resemble a nice, juicy firefly. I wasn’t sure what would happen if he swallowed my soul, but I wasn’t about to find out. I headed quickly back into the reeds and hid there, while the fish made a couple of passes, before losing interest and swimming off. This latest incident dislodged any lingering complacency from my head. I had to find a host fast, and as I was more likely to find one in Paris than in the countryside, I flipped over on to my back and started swimming upstream in my favored backstroke. I’d covered a few hundred feet when I came upon a small island in the middle of the river, and a rowboat bobbing gently with the current. I swam towards the boat and saw that it was tied to a tree. It was then that I heard voices and through a break in the undergrowth, I saw four men standing in a field. Two of the men wore cloaks and hats, while the other two were stripped to their shirtsleeves. These two each held a weapon, a thin sword, tapering to a needle point.
I’d seen enough movies, and read enough books, to know that these men were about to fight a duel. This, of course, was good news for me. One of them was shortly going to have no further use for his earthly body, which meant that I’d soon have my host. I know that sounds harsh and selfserving, but don’t judge me, okay. I am from hell after all.
deux The duelists approached each other on the green and I heard the clink of steel as they touched swords. “Agree to never see Marietta again, and I’ll let you live, Le Noir,” one of the men said. He was dark-haired and impressively built, while the other man, Le Noir, was fair, and slim. “Never!” Le Noir said, “Marietta loves me. You were merely an infatuation to her, de Mariny. You’re just too pig-headed to admit it.” “As you wish,” the dark man said. “Prepare to die then.” He placed his left hand on his hip, took a step back and pointed his sword at Le Noir, who did likewise, although with considerably less grace than his opponent. “En garde!” de Mariny said and thrust forward. Le Noir raised his sword to parry, losing his balance in the process and only just managing to keep his footing. He took a wild swipe, which de Mariny avoided quite easily before stepping forward elegantly and drawing his sword across Le Noir’s abdomen. “Ow!” Le Noir screeched, as his white shirt was quickly stained red. “Hurts, doesn’t it?” de Mariny said. “You ready to submit, yet?”
“Never!” Le Noir shouted, and rushed forward. This time de Mariny let him come, then at the last moment moved aside and hung out a foot. Le Noir tripped and went crashing to the ground. He came up with his face and shirt muddied. “Mud sits well on you, bumpkin!” de Mariny laughed. “Why not head on back to your farm in Provence and leave city life to those more accustomed to it.” Le Noir staggered forward waving his blade. “I’ll show you bumpkin,” he muttered and attempted another charge. This time his feet failed to gain any traction in the mud and he slipped and went down on one knee. “Now there’s something you won’t find in any manual,” de Mariny laughed. He feigned a yawn and looked over at the seconds. While de Mariny was distracted, Le Noir seized his opportunity, he suddenly let out a primal scream and charged forward, catching the bigger man totally off guard. He barreled into de Mariny, who lost his footing and landed flat on his back. Le Noir quickly moved in and placed the point of his rapier to de Mariny’s throat. “You concede?” he said. “That’s not fair!” de Mariny shouted.
“Fair or not, I have you at a disadvantage, Duke. Concede or I’ll have to finish you off, distasteful though that would be.” “Alright, alright, I concede,” de Mariny grumbled. “Seconds?” “Noted,” the seconds said in unison. “Right, then,” Le Noir said, removing his rapier from de Mariny’s jugular. “You will no longer visit or speak to Marietta. In fact, you’ll no longer look upon her at all. Do this and we’ll put this whole business behind us. Let’s say no more about it.” Behind him de Mariny got slowly to his feet. “I agree no more should be said about it,” he said, “particularly by you.” He thrust his sword into Le Noir’s back holding it there until the smaller man collapsed to the ground. “I say, that’s rather unsporting,” Le Noir’s second said. de Mariny spun towards him still holding the bloody sword. “Perhaps you’d like to join your friend, the Count, then? In the name of sportsmanship, of course.” “Not at all Le Duc,” the man said, almost immediately. “You won fair and square. We both saw it.” “Good, then drop Le Noir in the river and let’s get out of here.”
The two seconds carried the body of Count Le Noir and placed him in the water, while de Mariny washed off his blade, then dressed in his coat and hat. The three of them then set off across the river in the rowboat. I waited until they’d reached the riverbank before I pushed away from the shelter of the island. To the front I could see a blond head gently bobbing along with the current, and I headed in that direction.
trois On the previous two missions I’d done, I had at least some sketchy details about my host, or intended host. In this case, I had next to nothing. I knew that he was a count, that he was from Provence, and that he was in love with a woman by the name of Marietta. Other than that I had a big fat blank, and all that I got when I merged with Le Noir was a brief flash of a beautiful, blonde woman with piercing blue eyes. I made my way to the riverbank and crawled out. It had clouded over and as I set off along the road towards Paris I heard thunder rumbling in the distance. Shortly after, it began to rain. By the time I’d covered less than a mile I was soaked to the skin and the buckled shoes I was wearing were chaffing at my heels and blistering my toes. I wasn’t going to make it to Paris walking in those shoes, so it sat down on a milestone to remove them. After a while the rain let up, and I was just about to get to my feet when I heard the sound of approaching hooves. Before I’d had a chance to get off the road, a rider appeared. He was dressed in black, with an elaborate frilly shirt under his topcoat, and a three-cornered hat on his head. He also wore a crude mask, with unevenly cut eyeholes. “Whoa, Satan!” he called and brought his black steed to a skidding halt in front of me.
The man looked me up and down, and then said, “Greetings friend, nice day for a walk.” “Greetings,” I said. “I’m afraid, my horse took off, I …” “You haven’t been riding,” he said. “Not in those britches…” “I assure you, I have.” “What’s your game, stranger? You’re not one of the king’s dragoons, are you.” “No, not at all, I’m just a citizen out for a walk.” “Ah ha!” the man said. “Ah ha, what?” “Earlier on you said you were out riding.” “And you said I couldn’t possibly be out riding in these britches, so I guess I must have been out walking.” “I see your point,” he said rubbing his chin. He seemed confused. “Tell me, friend,” he said, suddenly breaking into a smile. “What are they saying about me in Paris? I bet they’re quaking in their boots, hey?” “Who are you again?”
The smile faded quickly from his face, “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of me.” “I confess, I haven’t.” “What! Have you been living under a stone, man? I am Claude Duval, scourge of the Paris-Reims line, terror of the provinces, blight of the fortyfifth arrondissement.” “No, can’t say that rings a bell.” “The French Dick Turpin?” “Ah, now him, I have heard of!” “Pah!” Duval said, “I break wind in the approximate vicinity of Monsieur Turpin.” “While you’re doing so,” I said, “You may want to get off the road. I think I hear a coach approaching.” An ornate coach pulled by four horses rounded a bend in the road. Duval spun his horse around, almost falling off in the process. He drew a pistol and fired a shot in the air and the coach came sliding to a halt. “Stand and deliver!” Duval shouted, “I am Claude Duval, scourge of the Paris-Reims line, terror of the provinces, blight of the forty-fifth arrondissement.”
“Who?” the coach driver asked. “The French Dick Turpin,” I said. I was still sitting on the milestone massaging my aching feet. “Never mind Dick Turpin,” Duval said. “Hand over your money and your valuables.”