Antony had been as patient as anyone could be when preparing for what lay ahead of him. He’d made every effort to keep his mother away from his designs and machinations; if she had discovered him, she had not as yet let on. Yet ever she seemed to be right there at the last minute, just in time to put a halt to whatever he had in mind.

This would not be the same, however, and he’d seen to that as best as possible. All he had to do now was wait for the right moment to strike. His people were all in position, the transport van a simple gray Dodge Caravan with California plates, all on the up-and-up, parked perhaps a quarter of a block up the street from the venue. His hand-off man was seated against the low white concrete wall that acted as a barrier between the church’s property and the sidewalk, dressed in the disheveled apparel of a vagrant muttering to himself and swatting at invisible presences. At worst, a local police officer might ask him to move it along, but even then, there was another man hiding in the back of a backup vehicle along the street to take his place.

The concert would be starting soon. Antony peered down the street through his binoculars, smiling at the sight of the unwitting masses of metalhead fanatics who’d come together to see The New Horsemen’s first performance of their farewell tour. He adjusted his view, now eyeballing the long, iconic black-and-crimson tour bus bearing the band’s name and logo, an image of four cybernetic horsemen carrying futuristic weapons through a horde of fleeing medieval soldiers.

Someone was stepping off of the bus as he watched, a tall, blonde-haired man in a crisp black suit, carrying a long black instrument case. As he stepped onto the sidewalk and headed toward the gate in front of the church, he was joined by six more men, all dressed in the same attire, but with their hands clutching battered copies of the King James Bible. The crowd of ticket holders looked a little bewildered by these strangers, but they were allowed passage into the venue, disappearing inside as Antony had hoped.

Soon he was out of his hiding spot down the street, adjusting the tie of his own suit as he strolled authoritatively along, joined by six carbon copies of himself in appearance, looking like clones of the men who had just exited the tour bus. The vagrant stood up and braced himself by the handle of the shopping cart he’d brought along as a prop, still going through the motions of looking like a lunatic.

Antony walked empty-handed at the fore, while his six compatriots carried long black instrument cases, each one marked with small engravings on the handles. Nobody stopped him as he led the way up onto the tour bus, the driver not even nodding to acknowledge them from his seat just forward of the steps up into the vehicle.

Antony led his men to the bedroom at the back of the bus, opening the door to reveal six identical black instrument cases carefully lined up on the bed. “Make the switch,” he ordered, and the six men with him did so without a word. When the swap was completed, he led them back out, down the sidewalk and to the vagrant. “Now,” he said, and the cases were loaded into the cart, standing upright.

The ‘vagrant’ nodded to Antony with a sharp look in his eyes, turned, and started pushing the cart away in a hurry. Antony turned to face his people then with a beautiful, almost angelic smile on his face. That smile could have opened many doors for him, and indeed, already had. For a fifteen-year-old boy, he had more charisma at his command than most long-time politicians four or five times his age.

“Gentlemen, when I snap my fingers,” he said, holding all of their collective attentions. “You will return to your homes, with no idea what happened to you today. You will change your clothes and return to your everyday lives. If, for any reason, you do start to remember the events of this afternoon, you will instantly be overcome with the desire to hang yourselves, by the neck, with a belt or rope, or whatever is handy, until you are dead. Thank you for your help today,” he said, snapping his fingers.

The six strangers blinked at one another in mild confusion, then started all heading in separate directions, unaware of what they had just done, but feeling compelled to go home and forget all about it. One of them, Mitch Steinberg, would be found dead the following day, having hanged himself in his garage with a belt from his bathrobe, but he would turn out to be the only corpse attached to Antony’s post-hypnotic suggestion.

All in all, the young man would rack up a much more impressive body count as time went by. Yet here it would begin, with Mitch. Antony didn’t know this then, but he would have been pleased to discover it. As he walked along south, away from the venue, he spotted a gray Dodge Caravan in the distance, driving sedately away from a Starbucks.

And all was right with the world, so far as Antony Christopher Furr was concerned.

 

 

**

 

 

Daryl saw her coming down the hallway along the west side of the building’s interior, and took a step in her direction, taking a wide stance to block off access to the temporary dressing room. He’d ducked his head in a few minutes earlier to inform Axel that the guys had fifteen minutes to the start of their set, and he’d been simply blown away by the detail of their costumes for the performance. He wasn’t keen on Mikey, but whoever the guy had brought in to do the makeup and costume details, they were a talent like no other. There had been a stark realness to their getups that sent shivers all through the veteran roadie’s being.

“This is not the time for a social call, Lucy,” he said as the punk rocker, wearing an expression of blended fury and dismay, marched toward him. “The guys have got about ten minutes to showtime.”

“That’s fine,” she snapped, coming to a halt a few feet away. “I don’t need them, I need to talk to Gabriel.” Daryl cocked his head to one side, curious.

“You know that guy?”

“I’ve known him for a long time, Daryl. Now please, is he in there?”

“No, he’s getting set up with his buddy, Remiel,” Daryl replied. “Look, just tell me what’s going on,” he said, relaxing his stance a touch.

“I don’t know exactly what is going on, but I think my son is up to something, that he’s trying to sabotage the show. More than that, to fuck up the whole tour,” she said, shaking her head as she hugged herself tightly, clearly worried.

“Shit, you’ve got a kid? How old is he?”

“Fifteen,” she said.

“You don’t look old enough to have a fifteen-year-old son, Lucy, but props on you I guess for being a MILF.” Jimmy came out of a nearby room and joined Daryl, smiling like an idiot at Lucy.

“Hey, Lucy,” Jimmy said, face turning beet red immediately. “What’s up?”

“Oh, she was just telling me she’s looking for Gabe, because she thinks her fifteen-year-old kid is going to try to fuck with the concert,” Daryl said, hooking his thumbs through two of the beltloops of his pants. Jimmy did a double-take at Lucy, who shrugged at him nonchalantly.

“Yes, I’ve got a fifteen-year-old kid,” she said blithely.

“Was he in the house when,” Jimmy began.

“When I was sucking and fucking your brains out through your cock? Yeah, pretty sure he was somewhere around, but it’s a big place, he never walks in on me or anything,” Lucy said flippantly. “Christ, do you know how many times I’ve been spit roasted in the middle of the day?”

“Way more than I needed to hear,” Daryl said, putting his hands up in surrender and taking a step back toward the dressing room. He cracked open the door, checked his watch, and called in, “Curtain in five minutes, guys!” He pulled the door shut again and looked over to Jimmy. “Take her to the control room, I’ll put in a call for Gabe.” Jimmy put one arm around Lucy’s shoulders and led her back to the room he’d come from, while Daryl took the walkie from his hip and keyed it. “This is Big Dog, looking for Gabe. Anybody seen Gabe?”

There was silence on the radio for a moment, interrupted only by the dressing room door swinging wide open to admit Axel into the hallway. Already gaunt and severe, The New Horsemen frontman wore a skeletal head piece that fit perfectly over his head, twin lights of faint blue glowing in the cavernous eye sockets to complete the skeletal appearance. Over his body he wore a voluminous tattered black set of robes and cloaks, a stunning white guitar whose neck had been extended and shaped into a scythe blade held in his hands. The overall effect was eerie, causing Daryl to take a reflexive step away from him, backing against the opposite wall in the hallway.

“Jesus, dude, that is some boss fucking makeup,” Daryl rasped.

“THANK YOU KINDLY,” Axel said, using his stage voice for dramatic effect. “WHAT IS GOING ON OUT HERE, THOUGH, DARYL?” Daryl saw Tim pressing his way out into the hall next, dressed from head to toe in a magnificent suit of blood red armor, his head covered with a brutal Viking-style helmet, his guitar shaped like a gore-splattered axe. His eyes glowed stark red through the narrow eye slit in his helmet’s visor.

“It’s handled, boss, don’t worry about it,” Daryl said, waving off any concerns of his employers. “You guys just get out there and get this thing kicked off. My God, you guys have never looked this badass, no offense,” he added with a chuckle.

“NONE TAKEN, DARYL. COME, BROTHERS, IT IS TIME WE BEGAN,” Axel intoned, guiding Tim first toward the access door to the area behind the stage curtains. Tim followed close behind, followed by Billy, who came out looking like a starving third-world vagrant, his bass’s neck affixed with a pair of scales on the top of the neck. Lastly came Garret, who appeared to have been pasted with every possible outward sign of disease and rot a person could have showing on their person. Somehow, he even radiated the hellish heat that Daryl associated with disease as he carried his drumsticks in hand, each one designed to look like a dripping, poison-filled hypodermic needle.

They looked now, more than ever, like the actual Horsemen of Biblical lore. Daryl couldn’t have pictured a more metal group as they headed toward the stage, and the beginning of their own Armageddon.

 

 

**

 

 

Jimmy shook his head, still in disbelief. “I mean, I seriously could’ve used a head’s up,” he said through nervous chuckling.

“I’ve been through Antony’s browser history, Jimmy. It’s not like it would’ve been anything he never saw before,” Lucy replied. “Besides, I’m pretty sure he’s found some of the sex tapes I’ve made on the internet too. As long as he didn’t pull his pud to those, I’m okay.”

“That’s just messed up, lady,” he said in response, unsure of what to say at this point. “Look, the show’s going to be kicking off soon, and I gotta coordinate the pyrotechnics, so just use this,” he said, pointing to a console with various camera angles showing the various sections of the audience floor and numerous other rooms throughout the worship facility, “and try to see if you can spot your kid.”

Jimmy wrapped around the other side of the console bank, sitting next to another crew member, who was taking control of the light arrays. “Cue foggers,” the other crew member said over his headset, a clone of which Jimmy put on as Lucy squinted at the screens. She didn’t see Antony on any of the monitors, but she did spot Gabriel, shown on a screen labeled ‘East Wing Conference Chamber’. She softly exited the room, and started back down the hall as Daryl slipped out of sight to the backstage area through another door.

This was good, she thought. Axel had made it quite plain that he didn’t want the veteran crew chief to be messed with in any way, so she could avoid that pitfall. But she had to get to Gabriel, appraise him of what she knew for certain. She only hoped that whatever Antony had up his sleeve, he hadn’t executed it yet.

 

 

 

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