Night Watchman


by


Ric Rodriguez



            To Joe Simmons, being a police officer wasn’t just a job, it was about being on the right side of things. Though he was still only a beat cop, he had the reputation of being incorruptible. Some of the more street-wise cops called him a “candy ass,” but he didn’t care. To him, it was about honor. This was the reason Josh Ricketts, a veteran on the force, asked to have lunch with him one winter afternoon.

            “Did you know this is my last week?” Ricketts asked.

            “I heard you were leaving,” Joe replied. “Are you transferring somewhere?”

            “Retiring,” Ricketts said. “Moving to Hawaii.”

            “What are you, forty?” Joe asked. He was astonished. Ricketts had the reputation of being a clean cop. How could he have made enough to retire so young?

            “Thirty-eight,” Ricketts replied. “I’ve been moonlighting for someone since I joined the force. It pays real well. They’ve asked me to find a replacement . . .”

            “Me?”

            “Why do you think I’m talking to you?” Ricketts asked. “It’s security for a building in Harrison. It’s the easiest job you’ll ever have.”

            “Why does it pay so well?” Joe asked.

            “The employer insists on the best,” Ricketts said. “They’d rather pay someone who they know will be stand-up rather than pay less to some dumb-ass that’ll cause trouble.”

            “It’s illegal,” Joe said.

            “No,” Ricketts said. “You’ll get a W-2 and everything.”

            “Who’s the employer?” Joe asked, still skeptical.

            “The Catholic Church,” Ricketts replied.


***


            The next day, Joe met father Carlo in a coffee shop near the place he would be guarding. Father Carlo looked to be well in his eighties, with long, winding wrinkles on his face and hands. He wore a black hat, glasses with thick dark rims, and his collar was proudly displayed.

            “As soon as we’re done,” Father Carlo said, “we can drive over to the building. It’s very isolated.”

            “Sure,” Joe said. “If you don’t mind, I have some questions first.”

            “I thought Mr. Ricketts explained it all to you.”

            “He did,” Joe said, “and he didn’t.”

            “You’re suspicious.”

            “Yes.”

            “Well, I assure you it is only a building that The Church has owned for many, many years.”

            “What purpose does it serve?”

            “We keep some things there,” Father Carlo said. “There’s nothing mysterious about it. We just don’t want anyone breaking in or vandalizing the exterior.”

            “I see.”

            After they finished their coffees, Joe drove them to the building. They passed dozens of abandoned warehouses and office buildings, some of them burned out as well. It looked like a city in a war-torn country. In truth, it was only a city that had been left behind.

            Father Carlo’s warehouse was in a lot with many others. It was the only one that looked like it could house anything, though. The buildings all around it were eviscerated, just skeletons of what they had once been.

            They stepped out of the car. Father Carlo led Joe around the perimeter. The building was large and imposing, made entirely of brick, with huge windows that had all been painted black. Joe only noticed two doors. The first was normal-sized, made of metal, and in the front. The second was garage-type door that slid up and down. It was held shut by two heavy-duty padlocks, both of them brand new.

            “Has anyone tried to break?” Joe asked. He knew what the answer would be, though. Who would possibly want to break into this building? And why would anyone even be out here in the first place?

            “No,” Father Carlo said, “but I’d prefer to be safe.”

            “Are you going to show me the inside?” Joe asked.

            “No,” Father Carlo said. No explanation followed. Joe examined Father Carlo’s face. He wanted to trust him -- after all, the man looked like he could be someone’s grandfather -- but his instinct told him that something wasn’t right.

            “We live in cynical times,” Father Carlo said, as if reading Joe’s mind. “It used to be that this collar was enough to earn a man’s trust.”

            “I trust you, father,” Joe said, lying.

            “Good,” Father Carlo said. “Can you start tonight?”

            “Sure,” Joe said. They walked back to his car. Before getting in, Joe took one last look at the building. There was something about it standing here among the ruins, something he didn’t quite understand.


***


            Getting to the building that night wasn’t easy. Hardly any of the lights in the area were working and most of the street signs were gone. To make matters worse, the buildings all looked the same. Even with his high beams on, it took Joe an hour to weave his way through the maze of streets. He felt uneasy the whole time. It was as if he was going into a place where people were forbidden.

            “Who the hell would come out here?” Joe said as he looked up at the building. Since intruders rarely broke in through the front of a building, he drove around to the back, then parked his car. When he turned off the engine, the world around him went black and silent. He opened the door and stepped outside. Every sound, even his footsteps, made the night erupt, then echoed back at him.

            “God,” he whispered. “This is crazy.”

            Joe brought his flashlight out, and turned it on. He circled the building once, then ended up back at his car. He had to turn the flashlight off to conserve the battery. There was nothing to do but get back into his car and wait. He spent the night falling in and out of sleep. Nothing happened. Though it was the easiest money Joe had ever made, he couldn’t help but wonder what Father Carlo wasn’t telling him.

            The next night was the same. And the next. At the end of the week, he went to Father Carlo’s church to collect his check.

            “Exciting?” Father Carlo asked.

            “Very,” Joe answered. “I feel like I’m stealing money. You don’t need anyone to guard that place.”

            “But I do.”

            “There’s something valuable in there, isn’t there?” Joe asked.

            “You know the cat who was curious,” Father Carlo said, then laughed.

            Joe laughed with him, but he felt like he had been threatened. What had he gotten himself involved in?


***


            Over the weekend, Joe decided to forget about his misgivings. If he kept this job, he could retired young, as Ricketts had done. After all, he reasoned, what could someone like Father Carlo be involved in? Joe slept straight through the first night of the following week. He began the second night the same way, but something woke him up in the early morning hours.

            There was a light bouncing around in the distance. He could tell that it was someone driving through the streets nearby. Their high beams shot off the intact buildings and went through the ones that were gutted, creating a strange, surreal effect.

            “They can’t be coming here,” Joe whispered to himself. He grabbed his flashlight, then jumped out of the car and went around behind it, using it as cover. The vehicle was getting closer; he could hear its motor now. It sounded like a truck. Joe could feel the weight of his gun nestled in the small of his back, but he felt for it anyway.

            The vehicle stopped in front of the building, idled there for a moment, then turned toward Joe. Now he could see that it was a van. It approached slowly.

            “Jesus, I can’t believe this,” Joe said. He pulled out his gun and loaded the first round into the chamber. The safety was still on, but he could release it in a millisecond.

            The van stopped right in front of Joe’s car, then backed up to the rear doors of the building. It stopped and a man stepped out. He wore a priest’s collar.

            Joe turned on his flashlight. “Hold it!”

            The priest stopped, then slowly turned toward Joe. “You must be Officer Simmons.”

            “Who are you?” Joe asked as he approached. He lowered his gun, but kept it in his hand.

            “Father Romero,” the priest answered. “Didn’t Father Carlo tell you I would be coming?”

            “No.”

            “I’m just dropping something off,” he said.

            “At this time?”

            “One never knows when we will be called,” Father Romero answered. He walked to the back. “Can you light the way, please?”

            Joe aimed his flashlight at the back door and watched as Father Romero pulled out a set of keys, then undid both padlocks. He yanked the door up, revealing a dark opening. Father Romero got back into the van, then backed it up, driving the back into the opening. They were a perfect fit.

            “Thank you,” Father Romero said.

            “What is . . . ?” Joe didn’t continue. He heard the back doors of the van opening, then a commotion coming from the back of the van. “What’s going on?”

            “It’s being unloaded.”

            “Who’s doing it?”

            “There are a couple of priests who stay here,” Father Romero said.

            “There was someone inside the building?”

            “They’s always someone in the building.”

            Two loud bangs came from the back of the van, then the sound of the doors closing.

            “They’re done,” Father Romero said. “I should leave now. It was nice meeting you.”

            Joe watched as Father Romero pulled his van out, then walked around to the back and slid the door shut, then did the locks. Again, Joe couldn’t make out a thing inside.

            “I don’t mean to sound cynical,” Joe said, “but this looks very suspicious.”

            “These are cynical times,” Father Romero said as he got back into the van. “But I forgive you.”

            Joe wanted to pull Father Romero out of the van and throw him to the ground. Instead, he let him drive off. A minute later, Joe was back in the silent darkness. He walked to his car and looked up at the building. He couldn’t believe someone was in there. Was the building light proof, or were they in there walking around in the dark?


***


            Joe tried calling Josh Ricketts the next day, but his phone had been disconnected. He wondered if he had already left for good. He drove to his house and found Ricketts standing outside his empty house.

            “I need to talk to you,” Joe said.

            “You better make it fast, Simmons,” Ricketts said. “I’m waiting for a cab that’s taking me to the airport.”

            “It’s about the job.”

            “I figured.”

            “There are people inside,” Joe said.

            “I know.”

            “You know?” Joe asked. “Isn’t that weird? What are they doing there?”

            “Who cares?” Ricketts asked.

            “I care.”

            “Why?”

            “Because something weird is going on,” Joe said.

            “Listen to me,” Ricketts said. He grabbed onto Joe’s collar. “They’re doing important work in there. Just leave it alone.”

            “You know,” Joe said. “You know and you haven’t told me.”

            “They’ll tell you when you’re ready,” Ricketts said. “Maybe in a few years.”

            “And if I find out on my own?”

            “Don’t,” Ricketts said. He was going to say more, but his cab arrived. “Gotta go.” Ricketts got into the cab.

            Joe stood there as the cab drove off. “Important work?” he asked.


***


            The rest of the week was uneventful. Joe didn’t do any sleeping, though. He couldn’t stop thinking about whatever was going on inside the building. He considered breaking in. He could certainly pick those locks. The only thing that stopped him was the money. They were paying him well and he didn’t want to end up getting fired over something stupid.

            The following Monday, the van appeared again. Once again, it was in the early hours of the morning. Joe stepped in front of the van. It stopped and he approached the driver. It was Father Romero again.

            “Good evening,” Father Romero said.

            “Mind if I ask you a question, Father?”

            “Certainly not.”

            “Why in the middle of the night?” Joe asked.

            “I drive a long way,” Father Romero said. “This is when I get here.”

            Joe leaned into the car and saw that the odometer read 325,000 miles. “I see that you do.”

            “Can I proceed?”

            Joe didn’t answer. Instead, he walked along the side of the van. He stopped and pressed his hand against it, as if trying to feel what was inside. Then he heard a soft moaning. He went still.

            Father Romero stepped out of the van.

            Joe pulled out his gun. “Stay back.”

             Father Romero froze.

            Joe pressed his ear against the side of the van. He heard the moaning again. It was a human voice. “Is someone in there?”

            “Please,” Father Romero pleaded. “Don’t do something you’ll regret.”

            “Help . . . me . . .” the voice whispered.

            Joe jumped back, startled. “What the . . .?”

            “Let me explain,” Father Romero said.

            Joe aimed his gun at Father Romero’s face. “We’re going to open this thing up right now!”

            “I can’t do that.”

            Joe took a step toward him. He was going to get rough now. Then he heard something behind him. He started to turn, then felt something hit the side of his head. The night suddenly turned white.


***


            Joe’s head was pounding. He opened his eyes and saw that he was in a huge, dimly lit room. He noticed a grating on the ceiling above him. He turned his head and saw that the grating was all around him. He was in a cage. He suddenly felt scared.

            “Stay there,” a voice said from somewhere behind him.

            Joe nodded his head, then slowly turned his head around. He saw a grated door. Two priests were standing on the other side, their faces bony and pale. In the dim light, it looked like they had empty eye sockets. Joe felt for his gun, but it was gone.

            “Father Carlo is on his way,” one of the priests said.

            “Where am I?”

            The priests didn’t answer. Joe got to his feet, then walked around the room. He didn’t understand what this was. He walked to one side of the cage and saw that there was a gap between it and the floor outside the cage. He followed the gap around with his eyes, seeing that it went all around the cage. “This is a God damned elevator.”

            The priests remained silent. One of them seemed to be smiling.

            “What is this for?” Joe asked.

            The smiling priest opened his mouth, but then said nothing. He moved to one side, then Father Carlo appeared from behind him. He walked up to the cage. “I’m sorry it had to be this way, Joe.”

            “Get me out of here.”

            “You have to understand,” Father Carlo said. “This place has been a secret of The Church for a very long time. Since before the American Revolution. We can’t afford to risk anyone finding out.”

            “I won’t tell anyone,” Joe said.

            “You should know by now that I don’t like to take chances,” Father Carlo said. “I can’t risk it.”

            “Then what are you going to do with me?”

            “We’re going to have to send you down,” Father Carlo said.

            “Down?” Joe asked. “Down where? What’s in this place?”

            “We have Him,” Father Carlo said. “We caught him four hundred years ago and here he stays.”

            “Him?”

            “Yes,” Father Carlo said. “The source of all things evil.”

            Joe didn’t know what to say. Could this be an elaborate practical joke, or did they actually have Satan trapped in a cave? “That’s not possible.”

            “You will see him soon enough.”

            “How can he be trapped?” Joe asked. He suddenly realized how hot it was. “How could you hold him?”

            “Evil is lazy, my son,” Father Carlo said. “As long as we feed him regularly, he is happy to stay in his cave.”

            “Feed him?” Joe asked, astonished and sickened. He thought of the moans he heard coming from within the van. “You feed him people?”

            “Yes,” Father Carlo. “It’s terrible, but the alternative is to risk his escaping. Then the whole world would be damned.”

            “Can you feed him cows or stray cats?” Joe asked.

            “No,” Father Carlo said. “I’m afraid only human souls will do.”

            “Souls?” Joe asked. “Where do they come from?”

            “All over the world,” Father Carlo said. “Here, too. There are so many people in the world.”

            “No!” Joe screamed. “You can’t do this to me!”

            “I’m sorry,” Father Carlo said. He gave the other priests a nod, then walked into the darkness. They followed him.

            “You can’t do this!” Joe screamed. Then he felt a large engine coming alive. The cage lurched. Joe lost his balance, fell to the floor. The caged began to go down. Joe could see bricks on all sides of him. It was like he was being lowered down a huge chimney.

            The cage grew dark. Joe looked up and saw the dim light way above. He looked like he was over a hundred feet below the ground level. The temperature rose.

            “Please!” Joe screamed. “Please, stop it!”


***


            The cage continued downward for another ten minutes. Then it crashed against the bottom. Joe sat there in complete darkness. Then he heard a heavy, guttural breathing. Then the sound of something slithering toward him.

            “What is that?” Joe snapped. He heard a metallic rattling. The cage was being opened!

            Joe crawled in the opposite direction, until he reached the other end of the cage. He curled himself up into a ball, then remained silent. His only hope was that it wouldn’t see him.

            The slithering sound continued, growing louder. Joe felt a surge of hot air. It smelled like fish gone bad. Without even thinking of it, Joe began to whisper the Our Father.

            The cage suddenly lit up with red light. Joe looked up and saw fire coming in his direction. In the last split second before it hit him, he saw The Beast. It had so many eyes! Then Joe felt an intense heat engulfing his body. His clothes instantly burned off. His eyes, ears, tongue, all turned to ash and fell away. He fell to the floor.

            “Aaaahh. . .” Joe moaned. Though he couldn’t see, he knew that all his skin had been burned off. He tried to crawl, but all he felt was pain. Every nerve-ending was screaming. He wanted to die. He tried to say, “kill me,” but nothing came out of his mouth.

            The Beast’s breathing grew louder. Joe smell it’s vile breath, then vomited all over himself. It felt like acid. He screamed and his body shook from the pain. He could hear the thing getting closer. Then he felt its hot touch on his burnt flesh.

            “Aaahhh!” Joe screamed. His body convulsed.

            The Creature snickered, then touched him again. Joe screamed again. Its snicker turned to a laugh, then it touched him again. Joe screamed again. He wondered how long this could go on for. Hours? Days? Longer?

            “Forever,” The Creature said, then snickered some more. Joe screamed and screamed and screamed.