Back to the Desk

The Ring -- III

This piece is FICTION. No defamation of JRR Tolkien or any other 'magic ring' story is intended.

©00 Levite

Back to Ring 2

part 7

          Rings of Power have a way of looking out for themselves.

          Dominatus had sensed the circle of the Three inquiring after it. It also sensed, through them, the descendent of its most powerful owner in aeons. And he, the descendent, had potential to use it as his long passed sire had.

          Dominatus needed to be wielded, to be used. It had to be what it was meant to be.

          Mrs. Wainefield began to feel slightly better. She managed to sit up and looked around her room.
          "What day is it?" She asked in a wavering voice.
          The student volunteer cleaning her roommate up from lunch was startled to hear the old lady ask a coherent question. "It's Saturday afternoon."
          The lady nodded and looked around her bed. "Where's my purse?"
          The volunteer walked over to her and looked at her with concern in her eyes. "I think it's in your stand. Are you OK?"
          "I think so. Can you get my purse for me dear?"
          "Yes ma'am."
          She rummaged around in the old leather bag for a minute. "I know it's in here."
          "Can I help you find something ma'am?"
          "I was wondering whatever became of my husband's ring." She looked in the side pocket. "It was in here."
          "Let me look for you." The young girl said. She took the purse and opened it up under the light. "There's a ring on this keychain. Is this it?" She held up a small key chain with two keys on it.
          "Oh, yes. I forgot my son had put it on there for me."
          The girl took it off and handed it to the woman. Mrs. Wainefield took the old ring and put it on her hand. It had looked like it was far to big for the old lady, but then as she settled it on her finger, it fit.
          "It's very beautiful." The student said.
          "It was the only jewelry my husband would wear. He wanted to be buried with it, but I wanted to keep it." She looked at it. It seemed warm on her hand. She had an idea. "I'd like to get out of here for a day. Are they planning any trips anywhere?"
          "I'll have to check. Anywhere special you want to go?"
          "Just out, shopping, sight seeing. Anything different."
          "Let me go see."

          The volunteer thought it odd that a woman that had been wasting away in a half lucid state for months would suddenly want to go on a day trip. But she wasn't going to argue with her. She spoke to the nurses. They wanted to see the recovered Mrs. Wainefield.
          "Are you sure you're all right?" The floor nurse said to the lady.
          "I haven't felt better in ages dear." She smiled to them.
          The nurse nodded slowly. The woman's eyes were clear, her voice, firm. She looked and acted years younger, like she had never had a stroke. Maybe she had recovered. It had happened before. But not often, and never on her shift.
          "So you want to go out for a day."
          "Yes, ma'am. Maybe to the city for a day. Or just out for a ride sight seeing."
          "We might be able to arrange that. A van trip. Maybe to Washington. You know, see the Capitol and the new stadium." The nurse nodded slowly.
          "That'd be perfect." She smiled. "And we could take a box lunch."
          "I'll speak to the social director. We'll see what he can arrange."
          "If you can, ask him to come up here, maybe I can talk him into it."
          The social director was downstairs trying to get several of his charges to sing along. The interruption couldn't have come at a better time. "A sight seeing trip. Some of them enjoy that kind of thing. We haven't been to DC for while. OK. I'll talk to her."
          When he got up to the room Mrs. Wainefield was out of bed putting on her shoes. "When are we going?" She asked him.
          "Not today, ma'am. I have to check when we can get the van."
          Her face fell, she sat back on the bed and fingered a shiny ring on her finger. "Maybe tomorrow?"
          The director smiled gently. "I'll see if we can do it that soon."
          The lady's eyes became urgent, "Please." She said.
          As the director walked out of the room Mrs. Wainefield looked at her ring. "Tomorrow." She said to it.

          He had never been to Washington D.C. Maybe that's why he bought the bus ticket, he said. Greg had done things on a whim before. But this one had cost him nearly his entire paycheck. But it was a day away from the boardwalk and the tourists that paid his salary. He picked up a Museum pamphlet as he walked out of the travel agency and headed next door to the small storefront operation he worked out of.
          SEER. TRANCE READER. MYSTIC. The sign above his door read.
          Greg went by the 'professional name' of Prokov Verkhotur. He claimed to be a Russian mystic with heavy occult powers. Greg had never been to Russia, he thought his grandfather had come over from there, but he wasn't even sure about that. He had picked the name from a half-remembered article about the Revolution, and he had no psychic powers other than an acute sense of what people wanted to hear.
          All Saturday afternoon he plied his trade, separating gullible or curious tourists from some of their cash. Then after the shop closed he walked down to a club he frequented to indulge his two great passions. Liquor and women. Or women and liquor. The order didn't matter as long as he got both before the night was out.
          Except tonight he couldn't stay long. His bus left at midnight.
          Greg looked at his watch, he had about two hours to kill. "Just enough time." He smiled and caught the eye of one of the bar girls. "I can see your future." He said to he with a smile.
          "Oh? What's my future?" She asked. He had used that line on her before. And it had worked.
          "I see great pleasure. Wonderful sensations." He ran his eyes over he face appreciating the tones of her skillfully applied makeup. He reached up into her hair and ran his fingers through it then stroked her neck with his nails. "Tonight." He said.
          She smiled back. "Maybe you do see the future. But its not mine."

          After three more strikeouts Greg made his bus, but just barely.
          He just made it to the bus station as the driver was calling for the last time.

          Mrs. Wainefield clutched her purse tightly as she shuffled out to the van. Eight of the seniors from the home had signed up for the last minute trip. The director was delighted with the turnout and his misgivings eased somewhat.
          The driver nodded at the instructions. Take them on a tour. Stop for restroom breaks and lunch at off-the-beaten-path places. Let the volunteers decide when it was time to come back. And just show the old folks the best of the city.
          "No problem. They'll see everything they want." The driver said.
          The van pulled out and headed for the nation's capitol.
          Instead of the tape of moldy oldies the social director had given him the driver tuned in some light country music as soon as they turned the corner.
          "That's good." An old man said to him. "I hate those stupid old war songs he makes us sing all the time."
          "No problem." The driver smiled into his mirror at them.
          About an hour later the traffic got thick and they could see the outskirts of the city.
          "Where to first?" The driver asked as they neared the beltway.
          "Is the old train station still there?" Mrs. Wainefield asked. "Do buses go there?"
          "I guess so." The driver answered.
          "I'd like to start there. I love train and bus stations."
          "Suits me." The driver said when nobody else had an opinion.
          Greg got off the bus in the middle of DC. He looked around. The bus station wasn't anything spectacular and the neighborhood looked a little too interesting for him. He saw a sign. "Union Station." He followed the arrow and walked the couple of blocks to the main station building.
          "All right. Union Station. Don't none of you catch a train for someplace." The driver said as the volunteer opened the door and helped the old folks out.
          "I just want to look around. It's been a long time since I've been anywhere." Mrs. Wainefield said with a gentle smile.
          "Me too." The feisty old man said. "Last time I caught a train they sent me to Korea."
          "I just hope I don't have to pay a quarter to use the toilet again." Another one said.
          The group of seniors walked into the cavernous building together.
          It was a bustling place with announcements of an arriving train from New York and calls for a 'Mister Parker' to meet his party at the ticket counter. People hurried by and video screens flashed commercials and departure times.
          "This is an exciting place." One of the ladies said to the others. "Makes me wish I was going someplace."
          "Gives me a headache. Where's the bathrooms?"
          Mrs. Wainefield seemed to be looking for somebody. She said she wanted a postcard and walked toward a kiosk, but was looking at the people.
          Greg stood in the middle of the building with a feeling of impending doom gnawing on him.
          "Excuse me. You look like my grandson. Here. I want you to have this."
          Greg stood in the middle of the building looking at the ring in his hand.

          "Thank you."

          The old lady smiled and walked toward the kiosk that sold postcards.

          That evening the van pulled up outside the home and Mrs. Wainefield thanked the driver for a wonderful trip.
          Two days later she relapsed into her half lucid state as if she had never gotten out of bed.

          Greg fingered the ring and felt something inside him stir. This had been his ring before.
          He looked at it closely as he walked out of the building into the sunlight.
          Two dark bands of gold ran around the outside edges. There was no other adornment on the thing. It gleamed brightly in the sunlight as he put it on. It had looked small when the lady had given it to him. But it fit his ring finger without any resistance at all.
          "Yes." He said to it as he admired it on his finger.
          A sudden urge took him to grow a beard. He ran his hand over his cheeks, there was stubble there. He nodded to himself and walked along.
          "Now I need to get home." He said as much to the ring as to himself.
          Greg looked up.
          Everything looked different. He saw greater detail and heard everything clearly.
          As he walked he heard things. Instead of snatches of random conversations he heard ideas that made sense and information that could be useful. He saw a five dollar bill lying under a bench from across the building. Later he caught the eye of a beautiful woman and she offered to buy him lunch while they talked.
          He talked his way into her car and they entertained each other until his bus was due to leave. Greg promised her that the next time he was in DC he'd look her up.
          On the bus he noticed things along the road that he'd been barely aware of before he could read the exit signs and remember the information without confusion. The cities they passed through were now real places with names and unique features that felt he could recall almost without effort.
          At a brief layover he decided he wanted some wine to sip during the rest of the trip. Something that was odd in and of itself.
          Greg hated wine.
          He bought a moderately priced bottle and carried it openly onto the bus as the new passengers were boarding. The driver glanced at him, but something in Greg's eyes seemed to convince him not to say anything.
          It was late in the evening when his bus finally rolled into Atlantic City.
          Greg got off expecting to be stiff and tired. Instead he felt refreshed and ready for a long night of adventure and excitement with his newfound acuteness of perception.
          Then as he walked through one of the casinos looking for a friend of his that always knew where the action was he found himself even more aware of things.
          He stood by a gaming table for a minute just watching. Then he put a couple of dollars on a number. And he won. He collected his winnings and instead of following the coaxing of the table boss he said he had to get going and moved on.
          Following hunch after premonition after feeling by the time Greg found his friend, he had an extra five hundred dollars in his pocket. And another fresh drink in his hand.
          His friend Wes was more forthcoming and helpful than usual. Greg listened carefully, he detected subtleties in Wes's voice. He followed his eyes to various people and recognized them from when he first walked into the casino. What was usually a seething mass of complete strangers was now a hundred faces that he had seen earlier at the dice table, or they had been playing a poker slot machine when he first came in.
          "So who's the new hostess?" He asked Wes.
          Wes had never introduced him to a hostess. Or any of the female employees of the casino. In the three or four years they had been quasi-friends, Wes had felt that setting Greg up with one of the many eligible women that worked there was some sort of line he didn't want to cross as a floor supervisor.
          Until tonight.
          "That's Elizabeth. She's in the middle of a bad divorce I think, but she's real nice. Friendly. And she reads her horoscope every day before she comes in."
          "Does she now?" Greg was instantly intrigued.
          Wes told him the sign she was and Greg nodded thoughtfully.
          "I'll have to make it a point to talk to her when she goes on break." Greg smiled. "Thank you, I appreciate it."
          "No problem. Anytime." Wes smiled.
          It took him a few minutes to recall everything he knew about Aries. Then he positioned himself so that Elizabeth couldn't help but speak to him.
          They made eye contact as Greg ordered a drink. When she brought it back to him he told her that tonight was a good night for an Aries to make extra tips.
          "How did you know I was an Aries?" She asked him.
          "I know these kind of things. And your necklace is your birthstone."
          "Oh." She fingered the charm with her free hand. "What else do you know about Aries?"
          "I do readings. I see things. I feel things." He stared into her eyes.
          Elizabeth would comment later that she had never seen such depth to a man's eyes before in her life.
          They talked through her break, and after her shift. And the next morning as he smiled at her in his bed.
          "I guess I should thank you for helping me take that final step from my husband." She said.
          Greg had never had a woman thank him for anything before.

          After she left he took a shower and pondered what had happened to change his life so dramatically.
          The only thing he came up with was the ring.
          He decided to wear it to work today and just see if things would still go his way. Then the next day, he'd leave it home and watch for differences.
          Greg opened up the shop and put his sign out across the boardwalk. Then he made coffee and waited for the early morning walkers that would stop by just to see the sites.
          Usually those out at that hour in the morning wouldn't do more than buy a T-shirt with a picture of the shop and a saying like 'The Mindreader said I'd loose my shirt in Atlantic City' on the front, and 'I DID so I bought this one' on the back.
          But today things went a little differently. Out of habit he greeted everybody that came in, and once he began speaking to them, he engaged them. They wanted readings, or gifts, or to have him cast their horoscope or whatever.
          He had equaled his best day in months by noon. And he had made out on break with a woman that said she simply had to find out if his prediction that she was at the height of her sexual response cycle was correct.
          Greg sold his entire inventory of shirts with his picture on them in a rather mysterious pose with a crystal ball.
          And he had a date for that evening with a rather feisty Leo for a private reading.

          Later walking back to his dumpy apartment from the woman's ocean view hotel suite he pondered what would make a woman married to a big time oil executive invite an essential fraud like him up to her suite while her husband was downstairs wheeling and dealing on the future fuel needs of seven states. He had run her horoscope, and did a Taro for her, then he read her aura. Then he had hot and sweaty sex with her until she was screaming for him to take her away from her husband and two other lovers, one of them female.
          His previous luck with women had been a lucky score with some half drunken barmaid maybe once a month if he really got lucky. He had had more and better sex with better looking and more willing women since he had come by the ring than he had in the previous year. And none of them had been drunk.
          He stopped and bought a drink. He looked at the money in his hand. He had more money than he had in months.
          Other things added up. He had had more better, and more expensive booze as well, in the last couple of days than in all of... well, his whole life. People had been treating him differently. And his taste in clothes and mannerisms had changed slightly as well. And he liked the new and improved Greg.
          Greg was a realist. He knew it hadn't been just good luck or a sudden turn of the stars to his favor.
          In his apartment later he looked at the ring.
          "What are you?" He asked it. Then he glanced up at a framed picture painted on a mirror, and repeated the question.

          He wasn't sure if he had had a series of very weird dreams, or if it had been waking illusions. But he was sure of one thing. They had come from the ring itself.
          Greg got up and went to the shop and, well, just sort of took over.
          In two days he was running the shop. Bringing in money left and right. Word of mouth had it that a Real Psychic was working in the shop. Two curious senior citizens from a bus from New York would come and see. And go back and get the rest of their friends to come hear him speak. And speak he did, for a price.
          Greg had always known there was certain individuals in Atlantic City with connections to certain other individuals who ran things behind the scenes and had influence to, well, make things happen, or not happen.
          This morning as he was opening his shop a couple of friendly men in rather expensive suits came into the shop and locked the door behind them.
          "Yes gentlemen. Anything I can do for you?" He asked with a smile even though he could tell from across the store that they were not in there to buy a crystal ball shirt.
          "We heard you've changed how you do business." One of them said.
          "Yeah. You're making a profit now." The other one added.
          "We've had a lucky streak."
          "Patterson said it's all your luck."
          Mr. Patterson was the store owner and Greg knew he owed money to lenders that didn't have offices at the Bank and Trust down the street.
          "I just tried a couple of new things." Greg said.
          "Wanna tell us what they are?"
          Greg caught the eye of the second man. The ring on his finger suddenly felt warm. He had an idea. "I could show you easier."
          The hoods looked at each other. The second man nodded. "Yeah. Sure."
          "Over here. It won't hurt, or take long." Greg smiled and walked toward his 'corner' where he did his psychic stuff. He sat down and indicated the chairs opposite him. "Give me your hands and look into my eyes."
          "You try to hypnotize me or something you're going to have an early retirement." The first man said threateningly.
          "I don't do that. It's an act, I just want to show you how the tourists fall for it." Greg said with almost his best smile. His best smile he saved for customers that were either much better looking or had more money than these two. He held his hand out flat to the man with the gun under his coat.
          They put their hands in his. Greg cocked his head up a little and looked from eye to eye.
          "Now. You'll go back to your boss and tell him that I'm a harmless sideshow with a new slant on the psychic business and he should just collect his payments and let me alone. But to make sure of it. I need both of your guns and your ammunition. And it'd be a help if you told all your co-workers to stop by here and let me do their fortunes as well. And if any of them have wives or sisters or daughters, they should come here too, just before closing so I can do their readings in private. I see a long and prosperous career for both of you. But I think in about six months you should drive over to the FBI office in Philadelphia and turn yourselves in. OK?" He smiled at them and nodded before he broke the eye contact.
          "Ahh. Yeah." The first man blinked slowly. He took his gun out of its holster and laid it on the table. Then he put his two spare clips next to it and got up slowly.
          The second man didn't speak, but seemed dazed. He put two guns on the table with a couple of handfuls of cartridges then he got up and followed the first man out onto the boardwalk.
          Greg put the guns in his bag of personal items under his table. His hands were shaking.
          "Wow." He said finally.
          The Ring was cooling off. He looked at it. "That was something." He said to it.
          He was just beginning to think that maybe the suggestions he had made to the two goons hadn't worked when just after lunch one of them came back with a woman that had to be his wife.
          She wanted a very detailed reading of her stars that took all afternoon. Greg did it, charged her full price, and got a tip besides.
          Just before closing a young dark complected woman with gorgeous eyes and a health club body came in and asked if he was the one that gave private aural readings and adjustments.
          "Yes ma'am. I can focus your bodily energies and make everything flow correctly again."
          "Daddy said you really told the fortune of one of the guys he works with. And Mister Fracito is really skeptical about all this stuff."
          "I pride myself on the accuracy and intimacy of my readings." He stared into those dark eyes and smiled. "Adjusting someone's flow of the life energy requires great intimacy."
          "I imagine it does." She said staring back.
          "Let me lock up and we'll get started."

part 8

          "We weren't quick enough." Dad said looking at the skyline of Atlantic City.
          "I know. I'm not even wearing Agnito and I can feel him."
          Toni shivered violently. "He's pulling me to him. I can feel it."
          "I don't feel anything." Dad said.
          I put my arm around Toni. "Our rings are more powerful. They are still resisting him. And he still isn't fully aware of what he has. And what he can do with it."
          Jean's eyes were far away. "He has awakened the spirit of Rasputin in himself." Her face got pale and her eyes were wide. "It's starting."
          I felt something inside me shiver slightly. "But it's not here yet. Let's go."
          "You know where he's at?"
          I nodded and followed the cold chill up the boardwalk.

          The store was busy. But I knew before we went in that the Ring and its wearer weren't there.
          Toni couldn't even go in. She had taken her ring off to help fight the feelings. But it was still very powerful.
          Dad and Toni waited outside watching for the Ring and its wearer. Me and Jean walked in holding hands trying to look as touristy as possible.

          I have never felt such intrinsic evil as I did in that store.

          There were plenty of clues that this Prokov Verkhotur, AKA Greg Archer, was up to no good. Two women sat at his table waiting for him. There was a stack of mail with his name on it, and the high school girl behind the counter seemed to be in a trance.
          Jean stepped up to the counter with a T-shirt and tried to talk to her, but it was almost useless beyond 'how much is this?'
          I loitered around the 'psychic's domain' long enough to give myself the shivers, then we left, souvenir shirt and a couple of his business cards in hand.

          "Now we wait." I said. Dad nodded.
          We took shifts sitting on the benches across the boardwalk waiting for him.
          But he never showed up.
          "Something's wrong." Jean said as the fourth hour began.
          "Yeah." Dad nodded.
          "He knows we are here." I fingered Agnito in my pocket. "And he knows why."
          Jean got pale. "He's watching us."
          I felt it now.
          Dad was looking around. "Over there." He nodded and took off at a brisk walk.
          I saw him for a second. The resemblance to the long dead Rasputin was eerie. The man had a long beard with gray streaks in it, I got a glimpse of his eyes from half a block away and I will never forget them.
          And the Ring on his hand.
          Then he was walking quickly through the crowd, heading down the boardwalk toward a large casino hotel building.
          We followed in couples.

          Inside the complex I had to pause and think about it. "Upstairs." I said to Jean.
          Dad and Toni came in a different door. Dad pointed through the casino and made a circle with his finger. I nodded.
          We got off the escalator and walked into the shopping complex. It was a mall. That's all there was to it. They had their own private shopping mall in the hotel.
          "There." Jean said looking off to one side.
          I caught a glimpse of him moving down a narrow corridor off to one side. "OK."
          I still didn't have a plan of what to do. When we began I had just wanted to talk to him. But now, with him obviously fleeing from us. I wasn't sure what was coming. First off, we had to catch him and at least find out how much of the power of the ring he could actually use.
          Dad and Toni were right behind us as we followed him down the narrow tile hall.

          The hallway branched and turned, but he kept going. Then he went down a flight of stairs. Down another hallway, and down some more stairs.
          I smelled a kitchen. Hotel employees were here and there. But he kept moving like he knew exactly where he was going. He hit an elevator button, but it didn't open immediately so he kept walking.
          "We just want to talk to you!" Jean called out to him when he reached another set of stairs.
          He stopped and turned toward us. Then he held up a hand toward us. "That's close enough."
          I stopped dead in my tracks.
          I mean... I couldn't walk any further. My feet didn't work any more.
          I glanced at Jean and then at Dad and Toni behind me. They were frozen in place as well.
          "Yes I know what I have. And I know you know who I am now, and that you are here to save the world from me. Again."
          His eyes were completely insane.
          "Are you Rasputin or are you Greg from the fortune teller booth?" I asked him.
          He laughed at me. "Just be glad I haven't increased in power to where I could order you to jump off the roof. Yet." He turned in a swirl of his long black overcoat and walked down the stairs.
          We stood there like mannequins for another couple of minutes. Then I could move a little, I got my feet to go and put my arm around Jean and reached out to Dad and Toni, "Concentrate on breaking his hold on us." I said.
          It gave me a blinding headache, but I could feel Agnito fighting the power of the One. We all collapsed onto the floor.
          "Wow." Dad said.
          "To say the least."

          We regrouped in our hotel room down the boardwalk.
          I could sense Dominatus in the area, but I couldn't tell how close it was, but I didn't think he was in the building with us.
          We sat around the small table in Dad and Toni's room and concentrated on getting some advice from the Kabalists that started this mess.

           It Is He

          Rasputin in spirit if not in body.

          a most dangerous enemy

          I looked from Toni to Dad to Jean. She asked the question. "How can we stop him?"

          Together. It is the only way.

          he can sense us

          We were back in the hotel room.
          "Well? I guess we have to work together." Jean forced a smile.
          "Yeah. But what do we do? I don't think he is going to stand still and let us form a circle around him and call for backup." I said.
          Dad nodded. "We should get him out of his turf. He evidently has this whole town wired up and knows every back ally and service access."
          "So we kidnap him." Toni smiled.
          "I don' think that will work either." I grinned. "Which leaves us back at square one. What next?"
          We talked for some time. But didn't get any closer to an idea which we all agreed with.
          It was after midnight when Jean and I walked across the hall to our room and crashed on the bed without even undressing. One kiss and we both fell asleep.

          It was a couple hours later when I woke up with a vague sense that something was wrong. The first thing I thought of was Agnito. But it was safe on the nightstand next to my car keys. I got up and went to the bathroom.
          After I flushed the toilet I remembered I hadn't brushed my teeth before I fell asleep. So I did that. Afterwards I walked out deciding if Jean woke up I was going to kid her about not brushing hers as well.
          She wasn't in bed.
          I went to the door. The chain was off.

          It didn't feel right. I called Dad's room to see if she was over there. Toni answered still half asleep. They hadn't seen her.
          "She probably went to take a picture of the moon over the ocean or something. I'll find her." I said trying to keep her from worrying.
          I sat on the bed and pulled on my shoes. Hers were still there, "She didn't get far barefoot." I said to myself.

          In my haste to get out of the room I just grabbed my keys and the room key and went downstairs.
          The Casino floor was almost deserted. I walked out to the boardwalk and looked around. There were a few people out doing various things. But none of them were Jean.
          I walked down the boardwalk a ways, then back up, I kept going, playing a hunch, toward the mind reader store. I could see from two blocks away that it was lit up.
          Immediately I knew it, she was in there.
          With him.

          Rasputin was had been into the heavy mysticism of the Russian Orthodox Church. From what I remembered of his biography, nothing was too far out to be tried in pursuit of getting closer to God. Which suited the Priest's personality just fine. When he got into the inner circle of the Czar, he delved into the dark side of his personality's inexhaustible supply of perversion and depravity without restraint. Until it cost him his life.

          The Russian music blasting from the store added an eerieness to the glaring gaudy colors in the brilliantly lit windows.
          I crept up to the side of the store and peered in, in a minute, I moved around to the front.
          He wasn't even trying to conceal his activities now.
          And what he was doing was painfully obvious to me.

          Jean was standing in the center of a circle of five women kneeling around a broad chalk circle.
          Jean was wearing Lumin, and nothing else. She was holding her arm out and bent at the elbow so her hand front of her, palm down. The ring shining brightly. She seemed either hypnotized or drugged.
          The five kneeling women were also nude. Each was holding a totem I recognized as the Tree of Life. They all had the same dazed expression on their faces. Some of the icons were decorated differently than the others, but I didn't pay close attention to that.
          My eyes were fixed on the figure in the heavy robe on the far side of the room.
          Now it was Rasputin. Period. The Mad Monk lived again.

          He looked at me from the far side of the circle where he was lighting candles and chanting a prayer while holding a large bottle of Vodka. Then he made a point of ignoring me and took a long slug out of the bottle. He made a rough Sign of the Cross, then he waved his hand in an even rougher Star of David. As he moved I saw the Menorah on the table with its candles. He had all the bases covered.
          Jean hadn't moved through all this. I called out her name, but to no avail. I walked to the front door of the store. As I moved closer to the door I felt an actual physical force trying to stop me. Finally as I reached for the handle my hand and wrist refused to cooperate. It was making me sick to my stomach, but I forced my now limp hands to push down on the old door handle and slowly open the door. That was the easy part. In the middle of dry heaves and various travelling muscle cramps I staggered into the store.
          Once inside I collapsed over the sales counter and spent several minutes shivering violently.

          It seemed to be coming from a long way off. But it was happening in the same room with me. The kneeling women were chanting a Kabalistic prayer. I recognized it from some of the research we had done.
          Rasputin stepped through the ring and walked around the circle holding Dominatus over his head. Then with a great flourish he put it on his finger. The Ring shown with a light all its own. He looked at me with those eyes.
          "I Ruled Russia. I Controlled Nicholas and Alexandra. They Did My Every Bidding. Why do YOU think You can resist me?"
          I couldn't speak. Then I quit trying and fell back on the counter. Through blurry eyes I looked outside toward the boardwalk and the peaceful ocean.
          Dad and Toni were holding hands staring at me. Dad nodded at me and mouthed something that I understood on a deeper level than Rasputin operated at.
          I was ten years old. We were on a baseball diamond. Dad was telling me to steal second.

          "Vanessa." Rasputin said to one of the kneeling women. "I have chosen YOU to wear the Ring of Understanding Enlightenment."
          The woman stood up and curtsied.
          She moved to stand in front of Jean. Next to Rasputin. She reached for my wife's hand.

part 9

          To do anything at all I had to overcome waves of nausea and confusion that swept over me every time I even thought about moving. I knew the only reason I could move at all was that Agnito was sitting on the nightstand three blocks away. Somehow that thought gave me the strength to push up off the counter.
          It was all I could do to stand up. Then I did more and took a step toward the circle.
          I had no idea what I was going to do, but I needed to break up the proceedings somehow.
          Rasputin glanced my way and his eyes narrowed to slits.

          I collapsed forward in agony. I was sure he was killing me. I fell on top of one of the kneeling women.

          Jean screamed as I disrupted the circle and Rasputin's concentration worked on me instead of her.
          Dad and Toni burst through the door as his control of their rings lessened slightly.
          The Mad Priest tore his eyes off me and turned toward them with rage twisting his mouth into a snarl.
          Jean clawed at him violently, I grabbed the hem of his priest's robe and held on with everything I had left. Dad ran for the alter and began flinging religious icons and candles left and right.
          Somehow Jean got hold of his left hand.

          I will never forget the shrieking cry that erupted from his lips.


          Rasputin was on the floor.


                              Dead Again.

          Jean was holding Dominatus, the Ruling Ring.

          The women kneeling in the circle screamed and tried to cover up demanding to know what was going on.
          A piercing wail drowned out all other sounds. The smoke alarm was going off. Flames were shooting up from behind the far counter.
          Toni threw T-shirts at the women as we herded them out of the building.
          Rasputin was still on the floor. As pale as the chalk circle with the rune of the One Ring in its center.
          The building was burning rapidly. Several small explosions shook the windows as some of his magical supplies ignited.
          The fire department arrived and began the attempt to keep the rest of the building from being consumed.
          Outside the women began to remember bits and pieces of the evening's events.
          Toni laughed at the image of the late Greg Archer smiling his odd smile from the T-shirt one of the women was wearing.

          None of the police asked us a question even though we were standing across the boardwalk when the fire department arrived. The fire investigators never looked at us. They questioned a couple of the women, then taped off the area as soon as the fire was contained.
          We walked back to our hotel looking at the ring resting in Jean's hand. Still gleaming with it's unearthly light.

part 10

           It Is Not For Us To Decide

          do what you think is best with it.

          With them.

          We sat blinking at each other. Dominatus still in the middle of the table where we had laid it for this consultation with those I had laughingly called 'the Old Masters' a couple of times.
          "So. Now what?" Toni asked us.
          I shook my head.
          Jean fingered her ring absent mindedly. "There are others out there. Maybe we should at least locate them. Make sure they are not being used for evil."
          "What are we going to do with that?" Dad looked at the One, but he refused to touch it.
          "Where would it be safe?" Toni asked.
          "Outer space, bottom of the ocean, dropped into a volcano." Jean said.
          I shook my head. "It'd turn up again. They take care of themselves."
          "I've got an idea." Dad said. "When we get home. I'll show you."
          We smiled at him. Each of us had an idea of what he was going to do with it. He had been talking about putting together a small museum of jewelry.
          'Hide it in plain sight.' I muttered.
          Dad grinned.


          Several months later.

          The midwife handed a young mother her newborn son. "What're you going to name him Vanessa?"
          "He's got his father's eyes. He looks just like him. His middle name was Ivan. I think I'll call him that."
          "It's a shame he died in that fire. He'd have been a wonderful father."
          "He was an extraordinary man. I hope you'll be just like him."

          Baby Ivan wasn't crying. He lay at his mother's breast and seemed to be thinking about the future.


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