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Chapter 16

“Upsy daisy,” I said, calling my bike to the surface. I heard a slight gasp from Dru. I turned around with a smile on my face. Dru’s eyes raced back and forth, I think she was wondering where the hidden mirrors were. I didn’t take the time to explain it to her. I gave her some partial truth. “It’s a hidden storage area; a voice activated hidden storage area.” That was believable, right?

I gave her my only helmet as she hopped on without question. I fired the bike up and streamlined our way into the grayish dusk of the late afternoon.

She instinctively gripped me around my waist and I instinctively grinned. It felt nice. We raced down to the district and parked near the same spot I had the day prior.

“Stay,” I told my bike. It listened as usual. Dru looked at me like I was crazy; I didn’t bother to explain it to her. I hoped something would come up so I could show her my capabilities, instead of telling her. It would be easier that way.

We walked to the entrance of Night Shade and stared at the line extending around the corner. We didn’t have much time to begin with, let alone waste standing in a line with a hoard of gelled haired too much cologne wearing youngsters.

The bouncer blocking the door wore a simple black shirt, stretched beyond its physical limits, with the word ‘Security’ on the front. He was tall, dark and extremely muscular. He represented the standard type of person that worked in this line. We headed to the front of the line and I pulled a $50 from my pocket, hid it in my palm, and gave the brawny man a handshake.

He pulled the rope back and let us enter, much to the distaste of the crowd. It’s amazing what a simple piece of paper could do.

The club was loud.

The club was extremely loud.

Was I too old for this scene already?

There was a bar to the right as soon as you walked in. Three bartenders hustled back and forth but there were far too many drinkers than there were people who could help them.

The wait would have been agonizing for anyone with a real need to drink. You would wait twenty minutes for a drink and pay $12 for a draft beer, it’s easier to get drunk at home and play video games online. Online the people you cuss at have no idea who you are; it’s a win, win.

The lights flashed to the beat of the music. There was an outdoor patio on the other end of the building for the smokers. They huddled together, shoulder to shoulder. Not only were they smoking their own cigarettes, but they were also second-hand smoking everyone else’s, doubling the pleasure.

Lines everywhere for everything: the bathroom, the secondary bar outside, and even the DJ’s booth–It’s hard to get your groove on if the right jam wasn’t playing through the speakers.

Dru had a picture of her brother with her and we decided that the bar would be the best place to start; bartenders are the Wikipedia of the socialite world.

The wait had to be long because there was a line about 5 deep at the bar. Oddly enough it had only felt like a minute, the combination of the lights flashing and the music thumping had put both of us in a trance. This place should come with a warning: If you have history of seizures or heart attacks please do not enter.

A male, younger than me, very tan, and sporting a million dollar smile finally came over to help us.

“Good evening you two, what can I get you to drink?” He asked a little hurried but understandably so.

Dru took the lead, pulling the picture from her sweatshirt.

“Do you remember seeing this person?” She asked thrusting the picture close to the man’s face.

“Yea, Webb, he comes here all the time.”

“You mean he came here all of the time,” she said with uncontrolled emotion.

“Right, sorry about that,” he said.

It was my turn. Dru didn’t need to get too emotional, too soon. She pulled her arm away from the bartender and put the picture back into her pocket.

“Did you know Webb personally?” I asked.

“I knew him, yea. He would come in here with Deals a couple times a week.”

The bartender started looking around, tapping his fingers on the bar like he was getting impatient. The longer we talked to him the more money he was losing.

“One last question, was there anything unusual about the night he was shot? Do you remember an argument, new people around him, or anything like that?”

His eyes were vacant for a second or two. He was trying to replay the night in his mind. They came back into focus and he answered.

“Actually, yes, there was something a little different. When he came in he was with Deals and no one else. When they left, Webb had a blonde woman underneath his arm. She wasn’t a regular, but she looked expensive. Sorry you two but if you aren’t ordering a drink I need to get going.”

The bartender left and hurried to the other end of the bar. He started waiting on a big group of college students. Each student wore something glowing around their neck, wrist, and pretty much anywhere else. I didn’t get it.

We shoved our way through the crowds and made our way out of the front entrance, back to the street. It was full dark by now and the streets were getting crowded. A group of cross dressers were getting out of a taxi across the street, three business men were walking into a strip club called Night Stories, and many other types of people were going in many other directions. There’s everything for everyone here. And then some.

We walked anonymously towards my bike, focusing on our next step. We still had no idea what our next step should or would be.

“What did he mean when he said she looked expensive?” Dru asked breaking our silence.

I cleared my throat, not because there was something in their but because of the topic at hand. I knew what the bartender meant; I had hoped she did too because I didn’t want to have to explain it to her.

“Maybe she was just very pretty. Your bro looks like he could’ve landed any girl he wanted. He had money to throw around and good looks. What else could a woman want?”

“I guess so. I don’t think that’s what the bartender was implying. Do you think he meant she was a…a hooker?” She asked me, keeping on the one topic I wanted to stop talking about.

“Umm, yea. I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant. Sorry, you had to find out like that.”

“I’m not sorry,” she said. “He’s a good guy but everyone has their faults. I’ve always known he was a bit of a whore, a womanizer if you will. I never thought he would need to pay for it. I guess having more money could change a person like that.” She spoke very easy about the subject, something I wasn’t capable of.

We continued to my bike, once again in silence.

We were in eye-shot of our way home and slowly, at the end of the block, two, dark SUV’s moved like shadows out of the corner of my eye. They looked like gleaming eyes of a two-headed monster as they approached.

“What kind of shoes do you have on?” I quickly asked Dru as I turned toward her in a panic.

“Cross-trainers, why?”

“I wanted to know how fast we would be able to move.”

I grabbed her by the arm and headed back the way we came. The SUV’s roared to life speeding after us.

“Why are we running?” Dru asked in between breaths.

Before I could answer her, gunfire erupted. Guns were extended through the rolled down windows and bright flashes burst out. I wished they were just camera flashes; the paparazzi getting a close up of yours truly, but they were not. They were flashes of death–the bright light before the end. But I wouldn’t be so willing to walk into these lights.

 

Chapter 17

Errant shots kept ringing out, whistling by us as we zigzagged through the street. One of the cross dressers with high the super high heels who I saw getting out of the cab earlier went down in a heap. The pooling blood matched his/her sequined dress as it pooled around the lifeless body.

We needed to get off of the main street. I couldn’t have any more innocent people suffer because of my unwillingness to die. Even in my time of distress I put others before me; I hoped that didn’t get me killed one day.

Still holding onto Dru’s hand I turned right, down a side street. The massive SUV’s wouldn’t be able to fit through here. I wanted it to be enough of an inconvenience that they would give their pursuit up.

I was partially right; the trucks did stop, but instead of giving up the men leapt out and continued their chase on foot.

Six men jumped out in all. They were dressed in their fanciest Kevlar vest’s and night vision scopes on their pristine assault rifles. We continued our running and dodging techniques that had worked so far to avoid the constant spray of bullets.

“Where are we going?” Dru asked hastily.

“Wherever people aren’t shooting at us.”

We turned down side streets and kept moving forward. Behind us, our pursuers did the same. They couldn’t close too much distance but our stamina was beginning to slowly fade. Dru was in remarkable shape. If we lived through this maybe we could go running together. I needed to get back into shape. I have as much stamina as what I imagine a sloth possessed.

I was done dodging bullets: mentally and physically. I was ready to do something a little more my speed; something a little more destructive. Dru and I made it to the end of a backstreet.

“Get behind that dumpster and stay there.”

“Why?” She asked.”

“Because–I’m done running.”

I don’t know if it was because I wanted to impress Dru or because if I had to run any farther my heart would burst.

I scurried up a fire escape and dashed across the roof. The men behind us hadn’t made it to the street we were on yet. They were taking their time, surveying the alley, moving forward cautiously. They moved like a well trained assault team.

I was running as fast as I could. Considering I was already fatigued, my speed was a little slower than I would’ve liked. So I wasn’t done running altogether; I was just done running away. I made it to the fire escape at the other end of the building. It would drop me directly behind the gunmen.

I quietly stepped down the metal steps, which was harder to do than I would’ve thought. The cold steel echoed with the slightest of my movements. I managed to drop down to the street, behind the team, and continued moving forward, staying in the shadows.

Every step I had taken I made good use of. I was gathered my energy as I ran. I built up a healthy amount, holding it directly under the surface, ready to break through at my command.

The alley-way wasn’t even big enough for one car. It was lined with trash of all kinds. Broken bottles, torn bags, and what looked like urine stains decorated the alley. I forced myself to ignore the smell and tried breathing through my mouth. There would be nothing good to come from me throwing up right now. I readied my strength and focused my anger. I tip-toed closer to the group. Shhh, Wes, shhh.

I formed the blast in my mind, shaping it to the alley. It was like the alley was one big giant mold, and I used that, filling it with my power. Before the last man in line turned around, I unleashed my energy in an unseen blast of power; it swept through them…all of them. They flew in every direction, landing hard on the asphalt below. I rushed over to each of them making sure they were no danger to Dru or me. One guy, looking just like all of the rest, decided he wasn’t done fighting. I grabbed his rifle and hit him in the side of his face with the butt of the gun.

“That’ll leave a wicked bruise.”

Now there were new blood stains to go with the urine and others in the surrounding area.

The point man stirred but posed no danger. I strolled over to him; he was the only conscious one left. “Who do you work for?” I asked. It was a simple question and the easiest one to come up with.

He took in a deep breath and didn’t answer me. Dru had come out of her hiding place by now, her mouth wide. She should’ve believed me. There was no magic trick to explain what had just happened. She had been by my side when I asked the man the very easy question. Yet, he didn’t answer.

“It looks like he doesn’t want to talk Dru. What do you think about that?”

She didn’t think very much of it at all. She crouched down in a judo position and squared herself to her target. She let loose with a confident and practiced strike. Simply put, she kicked the shit out of his ribs. I need to stop underestimating her. At every turn she has been more than capable of handling herself.

“Easy lady, we need him to speak. He needs to be able to breathe.” I told her. I was secretly smiling; it was fun to see a woman of such beauty kicking the crap out of her would-be-assassin. She wasn’t as vulnerable as she looked. She had punched me already and now she was stomping on some thug-for-hire. It was easy to say I liked the way she worked.

“Pi…rell..iii,” he answered before he passed out. Of course that’s what he said, why wouldn’t he. Jace was everywhere but nowhere to be found. He was a ghost in my life and haunted my dreams.

“Who’s Pirelli?” Dru asked.

“He’s the puppeteer.”

 

Chapter 18

We left the brute squad to bask in their pain, making our way back to my bike as carefully as possible. There was a trail of bullet holes and the now cooling body of that poor cross dresser that would’ve lead the police to yours truly. I could already hear the sirens in the distance. There wasn’t much time to get out of here. We kept to the back streets and in the shadows. I grabbed Dru by her hand and held it tight, not for any reason in particular, but the contact of our skin, palm in palm, erased some of the tension that had been piling on me. Everybody has their breaking point, even me.

My bike was, as we had left it, shining in its two-wheeled glory.

We rode back to my palace in silence. Only the cold breeze lashing out at us as we sliced our way through the night air. Dru gripped me even tighter than before; I liked that.

We pulled in behind the church and both hopped off. I set my bike over its resting place and murmured aloud, “Sleep”. And it did. The earth swallowed it whole.

Dru looked on, still astonished or shocked by everything she’s seen. Magic was and is very real and it’s much more than cheap card entertainment and having your mind freaked.

I made sure to walk ahead of her as we went through the back door. I let the securities down silently and Dru remained unaware of how dangerous my defenses really were.

Gizmo met us as we entered the great hall. It was the first time he had ever done that. He usually met me at the stairs, but I knew he was there for Dru. You think that I would get the extra love because I feed him and give him a whole side of a comfy bed. But no, he was a ladies dog, and I would never be able to change that.

I don’t think I’m too different than Gizmo; a lady around definitely changed the status quo.

We walked to the kitchen and Dru sat down by the table.

“If you’re hungry I have some burgers, chicken nuggets, and some corn dogs. But they’re all vegetarian.”

“Really? I would not have guessed that about you. I can’t say I’ve tried too much of that stuff. But whatever you’re having will be fine,” she replied. Her elbows rested on the table, her face resting in the palms of her hands. I set a cup of water by her before putting a pile of nuggets in the toaster oven.

I downed a glass of water myself before popping open a soda. I just wanted to get it out of the way so I could have something with sugar in it.

“I like ketchup with my nuggets, what do you like?” I asked. “I also have ranch and BBQ sauce.”

I don’t think she was paying any attention to me or to anything else for that matter. Her face was still buried in her hands.

I opened the mini-oven and retrieved our dinner. I piled them on to a single paper plate and set them in the middle of the table. I opened another bag on the counter and pulled out two treats for Gizmo.

“Here,” I said to Dru, “do you want to make Gizmo an even happier puppy?” I held my hand with the treats out to her.

She looked up at me, with her mascara running down both sides of her face. I handed her the two treats. I left the room and headed to the bathroom two doors down. I grabbed a handful of tissue and headed back to the kitchen where I found Gizmo chomping enthusiastically and Dru giving him a simple smile. I handed her the tissue and sat down at the table, ready to eat.

I had already placed two paper plates down and with them, all of the dipping sauces I could find. She never answered me.

She took a bite out of a chicken nugget and set it down, looking lost in her thoughts again.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked her in between bites.

“Everything and nothing,” she replied. “The fact that I was shot at tonight and chased down the streets; my brother is all but dead; and the only thing we learned tonight was he left with a hooker on his arm.”

“I think the call girl is a more important fact than you think. There are ways to figure out where she worked. Everyone belongs to somebody,” I told her, eager to keep hope alive in her broken heart. “We weren’t shot at for asking a bartender some questions. We were shot at because someone thinks we know something. Your brother was targeted because he might’ve actually known something.”

We wrapped up our dinner in silence. Dru ate the one nugget and sipped her water. I finished the plate and my soda. I cleaned what little mess there was and opened my freezer pulling out the bottle of vodka that I always kept in stock. I slapped two shot glasses on the table and poured each of us a shot.

I picked up my glass and raised it, Dru followed my lead.

“To finding a working girl and putting Matt at peace.”

We drank the elixir together. Dru sighed heavily afterwards. It was getting pretty late. We were both beat. Watching someone die as you run from a barrage of bullets could have that effect on you.

“It’s late, Dru. We’ve earned a good night’s sleep,” I told her. “Please, stay in my room it’s comfy, and Gizmo will be there to protect you.” He would protect her but he wouldn’t need to. The defenses of this building were more than capable of dealing with most anything anyone could throw at it.

“That’s awfully sweet of you but I’ll go home and stay in my own bed. I know in a short time that we’ve been through a lot. But I don’t think sleeping here is necessary.”

I stared at her with an even expression set on my face.

“It wasn’t a question. The people who came after us today know who you are by now. I’m not taking the risk of you going home and being ambushed,” I said firmly.

“I don’t get a say in this?” She asked with her hands on her hips.

“No, I’m afraid not.” I motioned her to my room and she gave in. I pulled out a clean fleece blanket and a clean pillow case out of my closet. I changed the case and threw the clean blanket on top of the black comforter. I couldn’t remember the last time I had it washed. It’s not cheap to get a velvet comforter dry-cleaned.

“The bathroom is the second door after the kitchen. And please, don’t go out any of the doors leading outside. I’ve set the alarm already. Very bad things would come from that.”

“So, I’m your prisoner?”

“No, you’re my pro-tec-tee, there’s a difference. Please don’t go out, it’s very important. There are a lot of awful people out there, and they don’t like me very much and because of that I take my security very serious. So…no sleep walking,” I said. “Do we understand?”

She probably wanted to put up more of a fight, on principles alone, but if she was like me she was tired. I hadn’t led her astray as of yet. There wasn’t any reason for her not to trust me

Her shoulders slumped and she shuffled into the room. In the short time we had known each other we had been through hell and trust was the only thing you can lean on in situations like these. There’s nothing like being chased and shot at to bring two people close.

I left my room with Dru and Gizmo tucked into bed. And of course Cy, the one eyed teddy bear, and the giant tennis ball were there too. I left the hall light on in case she needed to get out of bed; I didn’t want her to stumble down the stairs in the middle of the night. That was one reason, the other being if she was fumbling around in the dark it could wake me up and that wouldn’t be a good thing either.

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Chapter 13

 

“You still have that vial I gave you, right?” I asked.

“Of course I do Wes, it’s underneath the counter,” he answered sternly. “I have it rigged on a string so anywhere from behind here I can let it loose and it will drop straight to the ground. I would never forget something like that—ever.”

“I know old man; I had to double check. Something doesn’t feel right in the valley. Something big is in the works and I think I’m a little late for the party. I can feel it growing by the minute.”

“I’ll be cautious Wes, and you do the same.”

“Aren’t I always?” I said grinning. “Caution’s my middle name.”

I paid for the treats and said my goodbyes to Charles and his bear, Charge. Gizmo gave a quick swat to the half-asleep dog and scurried on after me out the door. We took our time, enjoying the suspiciously nice weather; it was still grey but nice.

We arrived home and I flipped some of the new treats to Gizmo. I went to my closet and changed shirts. Instead of the plain one from last night, I put on something a little more me. A deep red t-shirt with black lettering, ‘Bruce Campbell is God’, on the front and on the back, ‘Gimme’ some suga baby’ was written. It was a personal design of mine. If this saving the valley thing didn’t pan out, it’s nice to know I had a career in clothing design to fall back on.

As I shoved a handful of skittles in my mouth, I left through the back door towards the cemetery to retrieve my bike from its grave. I was headed to Heretic General Hospital. I was going to do what I could to get in the room of Mr. Williams, that’s assuming of course he was still there.

I lived in an abandoned church with its own cemetery in back, yet hospitals weird me out, not the skeletons I have as lawn ornaments. The not quite deceased have more of an effect on me than the already dead. It was weird.

When I first stepped in, the smell of decay, blood, and pain attacked me. Anguish ran rampant through these halls and it stopped me in my tracks. Heretic General was a monstrous building. It was odd for me to describe a building that saved lives as monstrous, but that’s what it was. The building had finished with a remodel recently. New equipment, waiting areas, desks, work stations, bathrooms, and everything else that could be nailed down or screwed in. It made this place look deceptively clean, even the workers seemed a little too joyous about their jobs. They must make a mean cup of coffee. I hate it there; no matter what the coffee tasted like.

Security was tight in most hospitals these days. Getting to Matt’s room could be a challenge. I might have to rely on my charm or wit and that’s never a good thing. It never ends up well.

I found the receptions desk and waited for her to acknowledge me. The middle-aged woman had curly hair, light skin and her nameplate on the top of the desk read Mary. She was on the phone with someone explaining she couldn’t give out information like that unless they came down and had the right identification. I was here, now all I need was the right I.D..

She finally got off of the phone with her head hung low. She let out a quick sigh to gather herself before finally looking up to me. She even managed to have that fake-work smile.

“May I help you sir?” She asked.

“Hello Mary,” I replied with a fake smile of my own. “Long day?”

“You could say that. What can I help you with?”

“I’m hoping to visit my friend, Matt Williams. I wanted a chance to pay my respects. Is he still here?”

“Let me check,” she said as she started typing on her computer, most likely looking for the correct room. “Here he is–room 307, on the third floor.”

“I can go see him?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes,” she answered looking slightly confused. “The elevators are straight passed me. I just need you to sign this visitor’s form. Print here and sign her,” she asked pointing to the correct line each time.

I did as she asked. I printed my name there and I signed my name here. Rick Deckard. I liked it when things came together like that, it makes me smile.

With an optimistic pep in my step, I made it to the elevators hitting the 3rd floor button upon entry. There was a lady in the elevator with me holding a coffee and the day’s newspaper. She was good looking, even in simple jeans, a light blue sweatshirt, and her soft face free of makeup. Her dark brown hair looked a little unkempt and the bags she carried under her doe green eyes wouldn’t have been considered carry-on. She’s had to have been at the hospital for a while looking like that. I gave a polite smile, but not too big of one. I didn’t want to make the wrong impression. I was a gentleman, not a soon-to-be stalker.

The elevator came to a firm stop at the 3rd floor. We both stepped off and she went left but I stayed standing outside of the elevator. I was looking for the directions; which way was the correct way? Ah there it was, to the left as well. I’m half-way to being a stalker. Chalk it up as a productive day for me.

I’m not going to say I didn’t enjoy walking behind this lady; it was worth being thought of as a pervert. She peeled off to the restrooms and I continued to room 307. She probably didn’t even need to pee. She was probably trying to get away from me. I have that effect on women.

The single patient room looked standard for the most part. A couple chairs off to the side and a little table next to them. There wasn’t an armed guard so good news for me. I wasn’t sure if there would’ve been, but I guess since they figured he would never recover they didn’t see the point in protecting him…way to stay vigilante H.V.P.D.

Tubes and lines were everywhere. They went in and out and every which way. Matt looked like a sci-fi’s mad scientists experiment. The machines hummed, banged, and beeped. Life support is such an un-natural visual. It physically hurt me to see it.

Death is a reality everyone must face at one point or another– even me. When the mind is gone but the body remains behind, an unseen battle takes place. He’s trapped between the world he knew and the fate that awaited him. No one knows for sure what happens when you die. There are many gods. There are many immortal beings. They live because people still believe in them. They can’t grant you any wishes, or answer your prayers. They only exist. They’re like tinker bell; if you don’t believe they will eventually die. Instead of clapping hands though, these beings feed off of the sacrifices that each person made in the name of that god’s righteousness.

I ran my hand six inches or so above his body. I was looking for any magical trace left from the attack, but there was nothing magical about what had happened to him. He was shot, plain and simple.

Matt was younger than I had expected, even with the Grizzly Addams facial hair. He had an exhausted expression frozen on his face. Was it because he was ready to leave?

I couldn’t find his personal effects. Perhaps the police were rummaging through them, or maybe he didn’t have much on him when he was shot.

He smelled nice, too nice actually. Generally I don’t go around smelling other men, but this was hard to miss. Plus, this was special circumstances. He smelled like a lilacs first bloom; bringing the fresh aroma of spring. Not your typical manly cologne. Perhaps he left the club with a lady, or maybe it was nothing. But it smelled like something. I’m not sure what good that little tidbit of knowledge would do for me now. But, it did bring such a sweet smell to a place like this.

With nothing else for me to do I left the hospital room. I passed the pretty gal from the elevator earlier. I gave her a small nod and a smile as she went by, unsure how she would take it. I tried my best to keep all creepiness out of it.

I glided home on my bike, hitting all green lights. What can I say, I have a gift. A dark green sedan was having the same fortune as me. It’s not every day I had the feeling of being followed. And it’s not every day that a follower’s actually following me. No one came down my street without an agenda.

I put my bike back in the dirt. I decided to continue on foot to the other side of the building and make my way to the front. The car I had seen following me parked on the other side of the street, a half block down. Someone got out of the car and pulled a hood over their head. He or she was sneaking their way closer to my cave of solace.

The follower went down the other side of the house, the same side I entered with my bike. I continued making a circle to get the beat on the intruder, in the middle of the day mind you, the nerve of some people. The follower rounded the back of the church and I rounded the front corner. I reached the back in time to see a woman, and she was reaching for the doorknob.

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

“That’s a good way to get yourself killed.”

As I finished my sentence, out of fear, instinct or perhaps both, the lady whirled on her heels, cocked her right hand, and punched me straight in the nose. My eyes immediately started to water. I could feel blood beginning to drip down my nostril as I covered my nose with my hands.

“What the hell!” I screamed at her. “Why did you punch me?”

“I’m so sorry, it was a reflex. I didn’t mean to hit you,” she answered, “but you startled me.”

She seemed genuinely remorseful, but she most definitely meant to hit me.

I should’ve been ashamed of myself, getting punched in the face on my own stoop. Why are there so many awesome things I can do, but stopping a punch wasn’t one of them, but a bullet, a knife, or a trident? Sure, no problem, but a punch to the face, oh no I’m sorry Wes you’re going to bleed (not to mention look like you’re crying).

The lady with a wicked straight right was in fact the good looking woman from the hospital earlier.

“Is this because it looked like I was following you at the hospital?” I asked. “I was being friendly, nothing more to it than that.” I said trying to defend myself.

“No, it’s not because of that,” she answered. “What were you doing in my brother’s hospital room?”

“Your brother,” I asked confused, still holding my bloody nose. “Your brother is Matt?”

“Yes, he’s my younger brother, was my younger brother I guess. They said he’s only alive because of the machines. I want those sons of bitches that did this to him to pay before they take him off of those machines,” she said balling her fists, unable to hold the anger below the surface.

Her defensive walls were down and her emotions were out, the tears rolling down her cheeks were a big giveaway. I never knew what to say in these types of situations. Not what I would call one of my strong areas.

“Would you like to come in? I can put on a pot of coffee and we could talk about your brother. Please?” I asked as I opened the door, motioning for her to come in.

She only hesitated for a moment. What normally would be a risk entering a stranger’s home, was a necessary thing if she wanted to find the answers she had been searching for. She knew the consequences. She had made up her mind that finding her brothers killer would be more important than her own safety. I wasn’t someone who had intention of doing her harm, but it was still a risk for her. She was a good person caught in the crossfire. A family member had been taken from her, more or less anyway. I’ve been going through this town doing what I could but never received a chance to something great. Maybe this was my chance.

I gave her a tour through the back of the church, the old kitchen, and the main floor. She looked transfixed with the beauty of this old place: the detailed wood, the aged pews, the altar, and of course the stained glass window. It’s one thing if you had seen it from the outside but it’s completely different when seeing it from the inside. Being in the presence of the church alone adds to the magnitude of what you are witnessing.

We made our way to the opposite end of the cathedral and headed up the stairs. She was reluctant with every new turn and every step, but she made them none the less.

Gizmo met us at the top of the stairs. He sniffed and nuzzled the lady at once. He had a new friend. She bent down, gave him some pets and attention; his stump wagged wildly. I didn’t know if my room was clean enough for company and I didn’t know if my modified kitchen was either. I peered into my room and…yep it was as bad as I had thought it would be. The kitchen won by default, plus the coffee was in there.

I brewed a fresh pot and grabbed a fold-up chair and placed it by the small table I had off to the side. The room wasn’t small but I didn’t see the point in decorating it. There was the microwave, the fridge, the toaster oven, and a sink. I put in countertops I had found in one of the vacant apartment buildings. I didn’t want to see them go to waste. Same with a couple blocks of cabinets. It wasn’t pretty but it worked for me.

The coffee finished brewing, making the room smell like a fresh start.

“Do you take cream in your coffee…?” I asked, stopping in mid-sentence. I still didn’t know her name. How rude of me to not introduce myself. Did I introduce Gizmo at least?

“I’m sorry, how rude of me. My name is Wes Andersen, and you are…?”

“Drucilla…Drucilla Williams, but please call me Dru.”

“It’s very nice to meet you Dru,” I said. “My nose, however, may disagree but that’s why it’s the nose and not the mouth. My little pooch there is Gizmo. You’ve already won him over. He’s yours for life now.”

We sipped the coffee and smelled the delicious aroma; two of our senses being satisfied at once.

“Why were you at the hospital in my brother’s room?” She asked breaking the silence.

“Well, that’s a good question,” I started. “I will try and explain it to you the best I can. Where do I start? I don’t work for the police; I’m not a private investigator; I’m not even a bounty hunter.” I took another sip of my heavily creamed coffee. What I am is more complicated but not so complicated that I can’t explain it. I used to live here a long time ago. I ended up living in a rather furious way and never thought I would be back here.”

“Why did you come back?” She asked.

“I came back unknowing this was where I was coming to.”

“You didn’t know where you were going?”

“No, not really. For ten years I wandered, and for ten years this place was the furthest thing from my mind. In the end there was nothing I could’ve done anyway. If this place wanted me, it was going to have me. So here I am.”

“That explains why you’re here, but not what you do,” she said a tad annoyed. And the only reason I knew she was annoyed was the slight head tilt she did when she said it. That always meant bad,

“True. I do what most kids dream of when their young. I fight crime.”

“You fight crime? Like with a mask and cape?”

“Uh, no. Usually I walk the streets and help where I can find those who need it. Slowly but surely I’m carving a wake of criminals and their crime in my path. When I found out about the shooting I figured I could do my thing and try and help. That should explain why I was at his room and what I do.”

“What makes you so special?” She asked.

“A lot of things I suppose. My excellent hand-eye coordination, my violet eyes, but most importantly this…” I pulled the sleeve of my jacket on my left arm up, revealing my uniqueness.

“Your tattoo’s…that’s what makes you so special?” She lifted her sweatshirts right sleeve and showed me a four-leaf clover on her wrist. “See, I’m special too.”

 

 

 

Chapter 15

I was staring at her. I didn’t know how to reply to what she had said.

“I can’t fathom the situation you’re going through right now,” I said trying the reasonable route. “I’ve never lost anyone I’d ever cared about before. All I can tell you is that I’m on your side. I want to hold the people who did this to your brother accountable. You must believe me.”

She still looked rattled, frustrated, and the bags under her eyes suggested she hadn’t been able to get much sleep. She only wanted what anyone would want in her position–answers.

“Have you gone to the police?” I asked. “I was under the impression they still hadn’t located anybody in Matt’s family.”

She took a moment to respond. I couldn’t have her freeze up on me now. If we could share any info, hopefully something would make sense.

“I told them I was his friend,” she said. “I told them I would wait with him until they could find his family.”

“Why would you do that? Why hold that information to yourself?”

She stared at the tabletop with a blank expression.

“I want him to still be here when the answers are found. He deserves that much.”

“That’s a good enough reason for me.”

I may not have any experience with what she was going through but my instinct was to help her. There was nothing to it but to do it.

“I know who might have been behind the shooting of your brother. You have to understand though that the man is almost untouchable, or at least to this point in time he has been above the law.” She gave me those wide eyes again and flattened all of my male defenses. She might not have been doing it on purpose, but through the years I’ve learned that most women do in fact know what they were doing. Regardless, I was hooked. I now had someone to let down–a motivational tool if I’d ever needed one.

We finished our coffee. I still wanted to ask her more questions about her brother but I didn’t want to overload her. She was vulnerable and scared. I didn’t want to put any more stress on her than was necessary.

“I didn’t find anything useful in your brother’s hospital room. Did he go to the Neon district often? The newspaper said he was a jack-of-all-trades so to speak, that he was involved in illegal activities. Was that true?” She rubbed her arms together hesitating. Did I push my luck? Did I step over the line?

“Yes, he was involved with some illegal work. He was only doing what was available for him. He tried to get a regular job, I swear. Our mom had a stroke a year ago and the hospital bills started to pile up. I work for the Valley, pushing paperwork. It pays ok but not enough to cover the hospital payments. I don’t know what happened but one thing lead to another and Matt started doing anything he could to make money.”

Dru’s eyes swelled with water from the mention of her mother’s health issues. She was trying to keep it together, keep it all inside, but some things will make their way through no matter what. That concept I did understand.

“Matt began running drugs all over town. There wasn’t too much risk he thought. All he did was pick it up and drop it off and he would get paid,” she said as she again wiped tears from her face. “But he fell in love with the lifestyle, the money, the glamour, the lifestyle that came with the business. He paid the hospital bills every month, but it was never enough. By then he could only see the money piling up, the dollar signs hanging in the air. They were in his reach. He needed to have them. He kept doing what he was doing because he needed to, but in the end it was because he wanted to.”

“I understand, Dru. He was helping the family out at any cost. It’s a hard lifestyle to get out of once you are in. The easy money’s not so easy in the end.” I poured more coffee into each of our cups. It’s funny how something so simple like a cup of java could soothe you—an adult version of a pacifier. “Do you know who he was around the most? Anybody he was close to in the business? If we had someone we could talk to, hopefully they could point us in the right direction.” She took a sip of her coffee and closed her eyes.

“No,” she answered. “I wasn’t a very good sister was I? How do I not know who he was with? I should have done something a long time ago. This is my fault.”

Tears continued to roll down her face as she tried to bury her head into her arms. I knew this wasn’t her fault, and deep down she knew it to. Guilt would block the common sense right out of you sometimes. Her brother was a noble man to her. He ended up sacrificing his life for the family. It didn’t matter that he stayed because he liked it. That was his choice. He was family.

A woman I’d just met sobbing on my little table would be the definition of awkward for me. I’m not trained for that, nor would I ever be. Luckily for me Gizmo stepped up and took one for the team. He stood on his back legs and pawed at her until she picked him up. His slobbery tongue was the cure for her breakdown. He licked the side of Dru’s face and she couldn’t hold back the smile. I even smiled at the magic that he possessed. I hoped someday I could be half as powerful as Gizmo.

“Do you like video games?” I asked wanting the answer was yes. It would be a good distraction for her. “I just bought a Nintendo 64, if you like Bond or Mario Kart.”

“Ummm…I don’t think I have played that before. Is it easy? I wouldn’t mind something right now to take my mind off of my brother,” she replied.

I handed her some tissues and gave her the directions to the bathroom. She wasn’t wearing tear proof make-up. She looked like an extra for an Alice Cooper music video, all that was missing was a snake wrapped around her neck.

I went to the bedroom and set up Mario Kart for her. I only have the one controller. I didn’t think I would ever need a second one. It’s always been just the pup and I. It’s not like Gizmo would be able to play games with me, it would be awesome if he could, but paws and controllers don’t mix.

I quickly made the bed and threw some dirty clothes into the closet and shut the door; out of sight, out of mind.

She came into the room. I stood staring not knowing what to do. I felt wrong for feeling attracted to her, but it had been quite a while since a lady had brought out my google eyes. It was pathetic, I know, but it was nice to feel like that.

“Alright, here is the controller. I think we’ll start off with Mario Kart. It’s a racing game built on chaos. You can throw bananas, red shells, green shells, and you can even zap the other racers so they are tiny. Then you get to run them over. If Nascar was like this I would watch it.” She gave me a forced smile looking only slightly confused. She’ll enjoy it, everyone does.

“The analog stick is used for turning, the ‘A’ button for the gas, and the ‘B’ button for the brakes. Don’t worry about the ‘B’ button though, slowing down’s for suckers.”

The race started and Yoshi (the character she had picked) darted forward, zigzagging from one side of the screen to the other. At least she was going in the right direction. The race went on and the more time that past she loosened up. She started to enjoy it and that was the whole point of the game…to have fun.

We played for an hour and every race she improved. If things kept going this well I would have to find myself another controller. For now, at least, it was good to see her smiling. Look at me go, two good deeds in one day.

“Shoot the red shell, shoot it.” I yelled at Dru. Boom, she nailed that spiky Bowser, 1st place would be hers. In under an hour she was already taking 1st place. She was my kind of lady.

“Nicely done,” I said. “It’s getting dark out; you want to join me on my adventure tonight?” She had as much right as I did to try and find out who murdered her brother.

“What kind of an adventure?” She asked.

“I was thinking about going to the club where Matt was last seen. I think we could find some answers there. This should be relatively low-risk, just poke our nose around and see if anyone recognizes him. What do you say?”

“Of course, anything I can do to help. I can’t sit by his bedside waiting anymore. I’m his big sister, his protector. Let’s get going,” she said throwing the controller to the floor. That was a big gaming faux pa but I let it slide, only once though, only once.

I turned the TV and the N64 off and raced out the bedroom to catch up to Dru. She was already on the ground floor making a b-line for the back door. She was a fiery one and even through the tears she still remained positive, remained even-headed. The people responsible needed to be held responsible. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

She was a guest in my house, she played games with me, she laughed, she cried and now I couldn’t let her down. I may not have had any female influences in my life but my protective nature started taking over.

She stopped before the back entrance to wait for me. Did I mention she was smart?

We stepped out of the back. “What ride do you want to take, Dru?”

“Is it alright if we take yours? I don’t know where we are going.”

“That sounds fine by me,” I replied. She should’ve asked what kind of ride I had first, but she didn’t.

 

In the middle of a decayed field, dry and depressing, I tried to recover. My hands rested on my knees as quick breaths attempted to keep up with my hearts increased pace. I started as the chaser but now I’ve become the chase-ee.

It started back in town.

A form that was solid but squishy, oozed out the back of a building. Its skin, always moving, floated above whatever it had on the inside. It was like looking at water through an aquarium, dancing to the movement of the light and subtle vibrations. It was a large mass, tall and wide. We locked eyes, or I should say my eyes locked its horizontal slits of light. They looked way too bright, but maybe it only appeared that way in comparison to how dark this creature was. It felt like we both stood there for an hour, measuring each other, sizing one another for the assumable fight ahead. I wasn’t a hard one to spot to most supernatural beings of this world, and neither was it. In one way, maybe we both didn’t belong to this world, but then again, I wasn’t the one with someone’s head grasped in my creepy hand.

The head looked like a horror movie prop and I intended to keep telling myself that it was indeed merely a prop. Blood dripped from the neckline, or the spot where the neck used to meet the shoulders. I don’t know what to call it now.

The head didn’t appear to be cut off; the skin wasn’t neatly sliced. No, as the shredded flesh dangled, it appeared to have been torn off. The skin moved with the beast, swaying in the wind like a maple leaf.

A high-shriek escaped the creature’s mouth, although I couldn’t see the mouth but the sound came from it nonetheless. In an instant it took off, away from me, away from the city. The beast shifted, going from standing on two, leg-shaped masses, into four legs, like a big cat or wolf. The bloody head stuck to the back of its new form. It looked like it was riding it, up and down with each bounce.

As the blob fled, I followed. With my arm illuminated, I tried to keep up. There wasn’t a chance in hell of me staying within range of whatever this thing was. I only hoped of keeping it in sight and I was doing just that. So I had that going for me.

As it led me to the outskirts of town and as my side began to cramp, all I could think about was the wasted time doing nothing instead of keeping in shape. I thought I was going to black out or get killed by a huge black blob. Whatever way, it wouldn’t have been good. Furthermore, it was daytime, why was this thing out? I didn’t get scared too often but when something like this was out in the mediocre-lighted day like today, it makes me a little nervous. The saying, freaks come out at night, is mostly true, but the freaks that come out during the day are far more terrifying.

So instead of being the usual badass, I find myself in an unfamiliar role—the hunted.

I swept my eyes from left to right, scanning the flat land. I quickly turned around and did the same thing. Nothing. If that gelatinous thing could morph into a dog like creature, could it change shape into something smaller, like a snake? My eyes darted to my feet, but saw only the dry, cracked ground. As my eyes returned to the horizon, looking for any sign of whatever it was I was chasing, a blurred object came from nowhere and hit me square in the chest. Regardless of my magical protection, a blunt force is just that and it hurts like hell. I gathered myself and looked around, as I found what had been hurled at me I immediately felt like I had been sucker punched in the gut. Staring back at me, through haunted, vacant eyes, was the head with no body. Up close, I couldn’t pretend it was fake anymore. It was real. It was grotesque.

I’ve found the head (or it found me), but where’s the beast?

…to be continued…

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