Celeste depressed the button on the machine. After a sharp beep! a smooth, clear voice said:
“Gus? It’s Benjamin Black Bull. I finished the research on the ghosts of the Dead Kings. In the Hebrew Bible, Rephaite or the plural Rephaim, pronounced, rapum, refers to either giants, or to dead ancestors of the Netherworld. Rephaim were an ancient race of giants in ancient Israel.
“In the Bible, the Israelites were instructed to exterminate the inhabitants of Canaan, including some large individuals. Several passages in the Book of Joshua suggest that Og, the King of Bashan, was one of the last survivors of the Rephaim, and that his bed was 13 feet long! This guy was big!
“In Deuteronomy 2:18-21 the Ammonites called the Rephai-tes Zamzummim, which in Hebrew translates into Buzzers, or ‘the people whose speech sounds like buzzing.’
“In Deuteronomy 2:11, the Moabites referred to them as the Emim. The Emim are also mentioned in Genesis 14:5 and their name translates as the dreaded ones, horror or terror. Rephaim are considered to be long dead ancestors of the Netherworld, or shades or spirits in various translations of the Bible.
“Ancient Semitic texts refer to the Rephaim as the Dead Kings. The many references to repha’im in the Hebrew Bible involving dead spirits suggests that many ancient Israelites imagined the spirits of the dead as playing an active role in securing benefits in the lives of the living.
“The link between these Giants and Ghosts comes from the word, raphah, which means to sink, to withdraw, to abandon or forsake. The Repha’im-as-Giants may loom large, only in the sense of a metaphor. They are gigantic precisely because they have withdrawn into the mythic past, they’ve become, as the saying goes, mere ghosts of their former selves.
“Gus, you’re on to something. Dreaded Ones? Horrors? Terrors? Your theory about these Dead Kings is spot on!”
Johnny stared at the answering machine as a second message was delivered by this same Benjamin Black Bull:
“Gus? I delved into the thing about Molech. Leave it alone. Remember Pandora’s box? You could be unleashing something that should be sealed away forever. Molech is the name of a Canaanite god who demanded child sacrifice. Molech is based on the root mlk ‘king’. There are a number of Canaanite gods with names based on this root, but Molech has been interpreted as the name of a god surnamed the king, lord, baʿal, or master, mispronounced as Molek instead of Melek which is also frequently given to Yahweh the god of the Jews.
“Remember how God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isacc? How come Abraham didn’t freak out when his god demanded he kill his own son? Because child sacrifice was so prevalent in those times that Abraham just went with the flow. The gods of Canaan asked those who believed in them to sacrifice their very own children to appease them. Odd gods.
“Jeremiah 32:35: ‘And they built the high places of Baal, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech.’ ‘Passing through the fire,’ became the name for child sacrifices throughout the Middle East.
“In the Carthaginian religion, they practiced the burning of children as an offering to Baal. There once stood a bronze statue, its hands extended over a bronze brazier, the flames of which engulfed the child. When the flames fell upon the body, the open mouth seemed to be laughing until the contracted body slipped quietly into the brazier. The Carthaginian nobles attempted to sacrifice 200 children of the best families at once, and in their enthusiasm actually sacrificed 300 children!
“Those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were lambs or birds. Molech was made of brass. They heated him from his lower parts; and they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt. The idol was divided into seven compartments, in one they put flour, in the second turtle-doves, in the third a ewe, in the fourth a ram, in the fifth a calf, in the sixth an ox, and in the seventh a child, which were all burned together.”
Ben muttered something inaudible, then Click!
Johnny looked to Celeste. “Do you know this Black Bull?”
Celeste said, “He’s a Lakota holy man, yet he has doctorates in both theology and psychology.”
“Doctor?” Johnny said, “Reverend? What’s his title?”
Celeste said. “Just Bull. He was helping us with the book Gus was working on. His own paranormal work with the Dark Ones of Pine Ridge made him a likely candidate to collaborate with. He was the one professional in a five-state radius who didn’t think Gus was a royal nut case.”
A last beep came from the machine, and a raspy voice said, “I came there tonight to claim the soul of Gus Howard. But my ritual was interrupted by Crazy Horse Face and the Raccoon Boy. Five more minutes and I would have accomplished my task. My god demands a soul.
The caller paused, then in a sing-song voice he said, “One little two little three little Indians. Four little five . . .” Click!
Johnny let out a long breath. “That, I assume, was Natas.”
Celeste held his gaze. “Yes. A psycho nutcase.”
Johnny asked, “Who exactly was this Gus Howard?”
Celeste quietly said, “Gus was a Demon Hunter.”
Fox sat there, his old Ford van parked in the shadows on Logan Avenue. From his vantage point he had a straight shot, one hundred yards to Gus Howard’s backdoor. Two nights ago, he’d had been paid to use a silenced .22 pistol to shoot out the street lights at both ends of the block. Tall and lanky with red hair, Fox sat hunched in his van, his night vision goggles turning the entire outside world into a green and black hodge podge of shapes. Fox relished stalking. Sneaking about in the dark gave him a sick thrill. He’d started window peeking as a young kid. He’d continued the practice for the past ten years. A secret purveyor of dozens of unsuspecting people.
He had just readjusted the night vision goggles, when his cell phone rang. Into the phone he said, “Got the place covered.”
He shoved the goggles up on his forehead. He picked up a notebook on the seat beside him. “You want an activity report?”
“Yes,” came the soft reply from the phone.
Fox removed a pen light from his shirt pocket and flicked it on. He used the dim light to read by, saying, “10:10: Golden Hair and Raccoon Ponytail entered the old man’s house. 10:15: Gorilla Biker kicked the door open. 10:18: Pagan Witch entered in behind Gorilla. 10:20: Shots fired. 10:22: Golden and Witch exited the house. They were met by the Writer. I’ll call him Strider. 10:32: Golden and Witch left. Strider returned to his house. 11:00: that cop that resembles a Viking showed up. Viking walked down to Strider’s house. 11:10: Viking walked Strider back to the old man’s house. 11:15: Strider went inside. 11:30: Gorilla escorted out in cuffs. 11:40: Cops led Raccoon out with cuffs, too. 12:00: Strider left the house and returned to his own. 3:30: Golden Hair and two big dogs showed up at Strider’s house. 3:33: Witch sneaks back inside the geezer’s house. At 3:40: She went down to Strider’s carrying something small and dark in her hands.”
Fox peered around, nervously, feeling as if someone watched him from nearby. “Did I do good, bossman?” he asked.
But the line on the cell phone had gone dead.