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Bewildering Stories

Gary Clifton, Dragon Marks Eight


Dragon Marks Eight
Author: Gary Clifton
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Date: February 26, 2019
Length: 195 pp.

Chapter 1: Armageddon

Investigation would soon disclose Billie Jack Givens had guzzled a quart of Jack Daniels before he crashed on the den sofa that night. Had he lived until daybreak; he might well have puked himself to death.

Billie Jack ran a brassiere factory. A rounder in spades, he’d always been a lucky, good ol’ Texas boy: thirty-four and never married, outwardly a successful business man, more cash than he could cram in a sack, but financially frugal.

It seemed Billie had bedded half the gals in Dallas. Then he met Linda Marie, a flashy blonde divorcee with two active, happy go lucky boys, who had tried her hand at a brief stint of topless dancing in a dive on Northwest Highway. Jack, predictably, had fallen in lust, then a form of love, and married his new beauty.

A brassiere factory; a small operation in a run-down storefront, on Industrial Boulevard? Anyone with a pocket calculator could quickly figure it out. No way in seven kinds of reason could Leemis Fashions, cranking out ladies’ necessities, using part time employees, generate the kind of cash required to support Billie Jack’s lifestyle.

Chapter 5: Hell

Actual flames had not reached the bodies although they had been roasted black as the fire consumed the roof overhead. The heat would have been in excess of eight hundred degrees at floor level, possibly 1000 to 1300 degrees at ceiling height.

The larger, obviously older boy lay across the other, an apparent attempt to shield his younger brother. Remnants of pajamas clung to both in small patches; strips of flesh peeled away from both bodies. They were about the same age as my friend Anne’s son, Tad. The kid on top was burned more than the one beneath.

I studied the pathetic, distorted little faces. Texas law required that an investigating officer be able to confirm that the body of a victim of violence was the same victim for whom a defendant was being tried in the courtroom. We were a stretch from developing a defendant, but I made certain I could say in court that I had confirmed from photos and word of relatives that I could identify the devastated bodies on the floor of 4780 Brookstone.

Without warning, God, where were could you? came to mind for not the first time.

The last entry dated the day before the fatal fire read: “Tiger marks one, Snake marks three, Monkey marks four, Dragon marks eight”. The words “Dragon marks eight” had been circled many times until the pen had partially penetrated the page. I studied the symbols and slipped the journal into my folder.

Three photographs survived in musty frames on a dresser. Two boys had to be the dead kids on the floor behind me. A second captured a couple—an attractive blonde and a stocky man with bushy mustache about Billy Jack Given’s age. A third was of all four family members. All smiled out from beneath the celluloid, trapped for eternity in freeze frame. I slipped all three from the frames and stuffed them in my pocket beside the diary. The boys’ photos would help in any courtroom identification that might develop. I don’t know why I took the adults’ pictures.

“Whatcha got?” Hooper asked.

Chapter 32: Just the Facts, Ma’am

“Oh, sir,” the waiter said thumbing through the journal. “Someone has revived the ancient Chinese Zodiac Game. It is a simple game of play-war, a favorite of children many years ago.”

“How does it work?”

“Children roll a twelve-sided die in turns. Each player selects an enemy. Two players each have one enemy, four players would have four, for example. Player roll, say rabbit side down and rabbit is not selected as enemy, then die passes to other player or players who rolls. He lands on snake, if snake is player’s selected enemy, player wins two marks against the snake.”

“How do you win?”

“Players roll six times, then game starts over. Player who is ahead after six rolls is winner, then new game.”

“What does Dragon Marks Eight mean?”

“Oh, sir, eights marks on any character is impossible. A player must roll the same symbol four times in six rolls. Odds are thousands to one against.”

“What happens to the symbol if a player achieves eight marks?”

“Symbolically, the character must die.”

Copyright © 2021 by Gary Clifton

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