Read the Preface.
Dom exhaled deeply through pursed lips. It sounded more like a gasp than a whistle.
Dom Basilio stood on a plot of unremarkable but undisturbed plain, far removed from the bustle of the road and chaos of nearby Illini. But placid beauty had been savagely marred. Only an hour had passed since he had learned the house was in ruins. Smoke crested the trees. Eden was at war.
With his two guards – he had half-jokingly called them his ‘goons’ once – he walked from his parked car to get a better view of the house. But just as they cleared the patch of trees that blocked the house from passers-by, the three men came to an abrupt halt.
A single profanity pierced the silence. None of the men knew which of them had voiced it.
Basilio gaped. It was worse than he could have imagined. The house was like the wreckage of a downed monoplane, like a carcass on which vultures would feed. Debris littered the ground. The roof had caved, the walls buckled outward. Was it some sort of explosion?
He squinted in disbelief. Between the house and the field, just beyond the collapsed porch, he saw a dull streak of gray. He moved closer. His eyes did not lie. Somehow the damage was even worse than it had first appeared.
The house had burst at the seams, but the house had also moved. The whole structure had been torn from its foundations and dragged at least three feet. The scratches on the exposed cinderblocks proved as much. But what explosion – what force – could move a house and blow it apart?
The side door had fallen away, so he motioned for the men to search inside. They were good at their job, good enough to fear for their lives and not push against anything while inside.
It took a few minutes before the men returned from the silent suspense of their work. They brought him nothing but a pair of unlocked handcuffs.
Basilio looked incredulous. “What’s this?” But he was compelled to look again by the grim looks on his men. The handcuffs were not unlocked after all. They had been torn to pieces.
“The hell? Who did this?” Then his mind returned to the previous evening. Basilio had received a call late that night about a man who had been caught sneaking around this very house. “Lawful stiff?” He had asked.
“Well, ‘e don’t work for us, so looks it.” Antonio, the house manager, had replied.
“Beat it out of him, would you.”
“Shor’ thing, Dom. If he weren’t stiff before, ‘e will be after we’re done with ‘im.”
A prisoner held in the West Gate: a bit odd, but nothing too unusual for a man in Dom’s business. Such vigilante types were always poking into the Basilio family estate.
The Basilio estate had been passed from grandfather to father to son for a hundred years. His great-grandfather, the first Dom, had won the estate from its previous occupants, the Lindoro clan. That Dom had sent the Lindorosi sprawling towards the Oregon Territory many decades ago, and they had not heard news of that family since. The estate was secure.
Not that anyone could implicate Basilio in the business. Sure, everyone was wise to the fact that he ran it, but they were wise enough to forget when lawmen came asking. Dom lived quite comfortable out of a mansion at the center of Illini, near city hall. Men called it the Temple. All family business was conducted far away from town, divided between four houses: the “Gates” of Illini. Only the four local managers could ever contact Dom directly, at least on their own initiative.
But this was unprecedented. The four Gates had existed at least as long as the estate itself, and the Western Gate was the oldest of them. How could it now collapse? How could it collapse like this, with a plume of soot and unanswered questions?
Shaking his head in disbelief, he listened as the guards told him about what they’d seen inside the house: corpses piled against walls, bloodied heads and broken bones, and a single chair resting innocently in the middle of the floor. “That’s where we found the cuffs, Dom. On the chair. Wrapped around the back. I think someone was being held there.”
The guard paused, at once eager and ashamed to say it.
“But there weren’t any blood on the chair.” The guards exchanged a quick knowing glance. If a stranger had been inside the Gate, it certainly wasn’t for pleasantries.
“No blood on the chair? But.” Basilio stopped himself. He didn’t say, ‘But I told Antonio to beat it out of him.’ He didn’t say anything. If the stranger had been spared, to sweat out his fear overnight, that was Antonio’s prerogative. Certainly no one would expect the same man to break out of chain handcuffs, let alone to devastate the entire building as he had done. Besides, Antonio’s men had been armed.
That reminded him. “Did you find any spears or darts?” Dom had never understood how the slang had come about, but they were so common people hardly used the proper words for ‘rifle’ and ‘pistol.’
“Not one, Dom. Some holes in the wall, and some casings on the floor, but nothing else.”
Basilio grunted. Worse and worse. The West Gate was down, and the cache was missing. The estate was under siege. It was time to return to the Temple and let the managers work their magic.
Part 2 will be posted next week.
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