I pulled onto the exit and into a motor lodge that offered vacancies. I paid in cash, careful to withdraw as much as I could afford back home so I wouldn’t have to use any of my cards once I hit the road. I motioned for Adam to get out of the car as I walked to the room.
“Clarissa didn’t look too happy about you turnin’ off.”
“Tough shit,” I said as the key clattered on the table. “She still hasn’t said where she’s leading us to?”
“Naw, she hasn’t said anything. She just… I dunno, appeared in front of your car when I hopped in.”
The kid frowned in thought as if sensing, like me, that being led by the nose by a ghost was no suitable substitute for a GPS.
While I hated distrusting Clarissa either dead or alive, there was something kinda bogus about the whole thing. I mean, why not just get in the car with us, why didn’t she talk to me? And there was something weird about the way she was scoping me out when she first appeared. It was like she wanted to fuck my brains out. Which ordinarily wouldn’t bug me but Clarissa never looked at me like that, with pure lust. I also couldn’t understand why the twins disappeared after I stopped coasting on my board. Maybe it was just one of those random ghost things that I’ll never understand.
After Coffey and I used the bathroom he took off his coat and shoes and got into bed with the rest of his clothes. He even wore his holster but I noticed that he put his gun under the pillow.
“I just remembered, dude. I don’t have a toothbrush or anything.” Coffey pointed to a gym bag that he’d dropped under the round table near the door.
“The shaving caddy in the bag. I gotcha a few things. Just take whatever’s unopened.”
“Really? You got things for me? Why?”
“Cuz I had a feeling you’d be coming with me. Now brush your teeth, Chaz, and go to bed.”
By the time I realized he called me by the wrong name. Coffey was already snoring. Who was Chaz? Then I remembered him telling me at the skateboard park on my birthday about a son he used to have who “would have been” my age. I wondered what happened to him.
Asking him tonight was obviously out and, besides, wherever Clarissa was taking us I had a feeling we’d have plenty of time in the car to talk about it.
I unzipped the red gym bag and found the leather caddy. I opened it and found among Coffey’s stuff a new tube of toothpaste, an unopened toothbrush and dental floss. I took all three into the bathroom. We’d stopped off at a Burger King earlier and I was dying to brush and floss the food out from between my teeth.
It wasn’t until I looked at myself in the mirror that I realized how flat-on-my-ass tired I was. Aside from my stunt at the gas station, all I did was sit on my ass in Coffey’s shitbox and even when I was on my board, it wasn’t even moving under my own power.
Then again, I saw two nice people get murdered before my eyes, not to mention the slicing and dicing of their already dead daughters, I was arrested for their killings then realized I couldn’t trust my own sister when I found out our parents were grabbed by her agency and hidden somewhere.
So I guess even when your body’s inactive emotional and mental stress alone can fuck you up pretty good. Before Halloween last month, about the most stressful thing I usually had to face was wondering whether I was going to get my cherry popped before graduation.
I brushed and flossed my teeth and as I tapped the water out of the brush I saw in the porcelain sink something that didn’t look kosher. The sink was still wet and was reflecting something behind me. No, not behind me- above me. I looked up at the ceiling and almost fell down as I saw Clarissa’s head and one of her arms. She was coming out of the light but looked like she was stuck. Her beautiful face looked like it was made of pure energy.
Her arm was reaching down to me like something was holding her up and away from me. Her ponytail moved in slow motion like a snake. Ordinarily her hair would’ve been hanging straight down but the laws of physics don’t apply to ghosts. She looked really antsy and I noticed her old wounds were back. They were missing when Coffey and I were following her.
“Clarissa? What’s the matter? What are you trying to say?” She was mouthing two words over and over but I couldn’t see her lips well enough to read them. Then I remembered Ramon’s digital recorder. I whipped it out of my hooded sweatshirt’s pocket and hit the “record” button.
About a second or two later, she was pulled up through the ceiling like she was jerked back with a cable. I rewound the file to the beginning and I heard a faint voice. I rewound it again and turned the volume all the way up. The background hiss made it even harder to hear what she was saying. So I fished out the ear buds that I bought with some of my birthday money, put them in my ears then rewound the file again. After I turned down the volume, I could finally hear what Clarissa was trying to tell me-
(Folsom, North Carolina, the next morning)
“Who’s Chaz?” I asked Coffey through half a McDonald’s breakfast burrito. Coffey got about a half a dozen of them and I was already scarfing down my second one.
He was about to take a bite out of his then put it down in the wrapper on the bed. He looked at me with sad puppy dog eyes and I braced myself for a sob story. I don’t wanna sound like a heartless prick and all but c’mon, dude, it’s not like I don’t already get treated like Dear fucking Abby by the dead.
“How’d you know his name?”
“You called me ‘Chaz’ last night just before you passed out and started doing an impression of Cape Canaveral.”
“Sorry about the snoring.”
“So, who was he? Your kid?” I took another bite out of my burrito.
“Yeah,” he said after a long pause.
“I can see you don’t wanna talk about it. That’s cool. I didn’t mean to pry.” I took a hit off my orange juice, hoping that Coffey would take the out I gave him.
“I suppose it’s time I talked about it.” No such luck, I guess. I took another sip from my OJ and listened.
“Here’s what happened…”
(Outside Hartford, Ct, the night before)
“Okay, Moss, report. What did you get on Coffey?”
“He’s a former Green Beret, spent eight years in, seven of them as a commando with JSOC.”
“Fuckin’ great. What else?”
“After serving alongside NATO forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, he got out and entered the police academy. Graduated 13th highest in his class. After 9 years as a patrol officer, he made sergeant then detective two years after that. Five years ago, he made lieutenant.”
“Well, this last-minute book report doesn’t tell me shit about the man, Moss. I wanna know what makes this motherfucker tick, why he’s pullin’ this shit.”
“Yes, sir. Married 20 years, wife named Beatrice. They had a son named Charles…”
“Yes, sir. Deceased. Almost three years ago.” Blood turned to Laura with a suddenly inflamed interest.
“How’d that happen?”
“When Chaz was 15, he decided he wanted to go out for JV track. He never showed any serious interest in anything else. Not his studies, no hobbies, nothing. Just his skateboard and girls.”
“I like him already.”
“Then, for some reason, he got interested in track.” He finally looked up at me and squinted as he took a swig from his coffee. “His grades weren’t exactly honor roll quality but Bea and I thought if he had some more passion, and it carried over into success at something more meaningful like his education, then why not? So I gave him the standard speech about making time for his homework, keeping his grades up, yada yada. And we gave him our conditional blessing.”
“Almost three years ago… He was just in the third week of training with the team…” I could tell he was either beating around the bush or trying to find the right words. And even though he volunteered to go on, it didn’t make me feel any less like a total dick to be sitting there and dragging it out of him.
“He was on his way home from practice one day, on his skateboard as usual. I was in the Back Bay looking over a crime scene when I got the call from my wife that Chaz didn’t come home. She said she’d called his cell phone and got no answer. None of his friends had seen him since he left the field.
“I was investigating a multiple murder crime scene so I couldn’t just leave. I called the desk sergeant of our local PD and told them to put out an APB on him and to call my wife and me if they saw or heard from him.
“Another hour into the investigation and I got a call on my cell phone from my colleagues that they found a skateboard and a cell phone about a mile from where he was last seen. I asked them to describe the board and phone and they did… perfectly. They said the phone even rang and when they answered, my wife was on the other end.
“My nighttime counterpart Lt. Rodriguez was just coming on and he told me to take off and take care of business. I high-tailed it to the PD in our neighborhood and talked to one of the detectives. He told me something I already knew- that until 24 hours had gone by, Chaz wouldn’t even be a missing person.
“I showed him my badge and asked them to treat this as an exception just as a professional courtesy. After all, if my son’s abandoned skateboard and his cell phone wasn’t proof right there of foul play, then nothing was.”
“What happened then?”
“What happened… is that we got a phone call. But it wasn’t from Chaz.”
“Who was it?”
“It was from the prick who took him. Some creep named Stan Clossey. He blamed me for him losing his family when I charged him with the murder of a stripper.”
“Did he do it?”
“Of course he did. His DNA was all over her corpse. But he blamed his so-called partner. Clossey had been following Chaz ever since he got out of prison…”
“How long was he in for?”
“Five years and a month. Good behavior goes a long way, especially in a crowded prison system.”
“For murder, dude?!”
“Manslaughter. His lawyer apparently had a better sob story than the DA and the girl’s parents. Anyway, Clossey had been following my kid around since he first realized that he took the same route back home every day and that he was exposed on that skateboard. I used to say to Bea that I couldn’t wait until he turned 16 so he could get off that damned board and wrap a car around himself.
“So Clossey picked the most secluded spot on Chaz’s route and got him there. He used chloroform to knock him out and he dragged him into his borrowed van.” I felt like a dick twice over but I had to ask.
“Then the subject called the Coffeys at their home later that night. On his own cell phone, at that.”
“Oh, that was nice of him!” Blood said with real amusement as he hurtled into the night. “Didn’t the stupid fuck know those things are just oversized homing devices?”
“Maybe, maybe not. He must have assumed that Coffey would have tracing equipment in his house by that time.”
“So what did he say?” I held the phone in my hand and looked at Adam standing next to my wife Beatrice. It was both strange and appropriate to see him standing there in my house instead of Chaz.
“I know you’ll have this call traced in seconds, Coffey, but that’s the idea. Now listen up, ‘cuz I’m only gonna say this once: Meet me at the Quincy shipyard. You ought to know where that is…”
“I do.” The miniature grandfather clock bequeathed to Bea by her late uncle suddenly sounded twice as loud, as if it was reminding me that time was running out on my son. I looked at the cops from both stations that were standing in my house to see if it was bothering them. Apparently, it wasn’t.
“Go to the last ship on the east pier. I’ll be in the pilot house. You bring anyone else with you, I’ll see them from miles away and your kid is history, get it?”
“What’s a pilot house?” Adam asked as we hustled through the destroyer.
“It’s the bridge, where they pilot the ship. You know, the spoked wheel and all that?” I didn’t know how else to explain it to him and, frankly, I had other things on my mind. I had a hard enough time trying to navigate my way around the ship. There were letters and numbers on the bulkheads that obviously signified something. But I was an Army Green Beret not a squid. After we climbed lots of hand-over-hand ladders and came up against dead ends, we finally saw an entranceway that led up to the pilot house.
The bridge was dark, of course. The ship was still under construction and there was no power on board. I could see Adam’s silhouette sitting in front of the bay window about two feet off the floor, his slender legs crossed, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. “So, were they up there?”
I knew the answer was yes but I couldn’t see them, yet. I swept the barrel of my 9 mil toward the port exit, the left side of the pilot house. That’s where they were. Clossey had picked the end of the longest pier so he could be guaranteed of seeing any other cruisers or cars in case I brought backup.
“Yeah, they’re here,” I absently said to Adam. “Chaz, are you here?”
“I’m afraid it’s past his bedtime, Coffey. He passed out.” His voice seemed to come from everywhere. The sound waves reverberated all over the all metal environment and I had no clear idea where his voice was coming from. Of course, I already knew since this was a memory. The port side hatch, of course, wasn’t battened down. He couldn’t do that from the outside, which is how I knew he was out there.
I pulled the heavy door with all the force I had with my free hand and immediately trained my gun on Clossey.
“So what happened then?” Adam asked, still levitating only closer to me.
“I posted sharpshooters on the deck of another destroyer the next pier over. We had a police boat approach him with three SWAT snipers from the starboard side of the other ship so Clossey wouldn’t hear them.” He couldn’t hear me, either, so I felt confident I could tell Adam what happened. Chaz was hanging limply from Clossey’s powerful right arm and I knew there wasn’t a damned thing I could do to save him no matter how many damned times I relived it.
“The problem was,” I said, still training my Smith and Wesson 9 mil at Clossey’s forehead, “even when a ship is moored to the pier and anchored in place, it’ll still bob up and down and police snipers aren’t trained to make constant teeter totter adjustments like that in the field.”
“Well, well, look who’s here to help me christen the ship.”
“At least one of the SWAT snipers had a clear shot but he couldn’t account for the bobbing of the boat. He made the slightest miscalculation and just nicked Clossey’s skull.”
“Did he kill him?” Adam asked, not reacting to the shot, even though the report made me flinch.
“Not exactly. There wasn’t a rail but a chain behind them and it wasn’t very tall. When Clossey realized he’d been hit, he trained his own gun on Chaz’s head. I raised my gun and my son chose that exact moment to wake up from the chloroform.”
“You fuck, I told you to come alone. You pigs are all cowards! Say bye bye to your kid like I hadda!”
“Let him go!”
“Coffey, dude, it’s over. Chill out.”
I pulled from the under the pillow my nine mil, the same one I used to shoot Clossey, the same one I used to hurtle his worthless, stinking body over the chain, the same one I used to kill my own son when Clossey, in a final, desperate moment of vengeance, pulled my son over the railing with him three decks below. I could see Chaz’s eyes suddenly get huge with panic when he realized what was happening. We’d locked eyes for a half second before he was pulled back.
“No!” I fired a shot and realized that we were no longer on the destroyer but back in a flea bag motor lodge in North Carolina. Adam was back on his bed, his legs crossed, index fingers in his ears, eyes bigger than Chaz’s in his final moments. I could hear a woman scream from outside the door I’d just shot. I got up and opened it and looked at a Latina chambermaid, her eyes as big as Adam’s.
“H-housekeeping. I come back?”
My illusions of being kept safe by Detective Coffey were pretty much permanently road kill after he put a bullet through the front door of our motel room and almost waxed a chambermaid in the process. I learned from this experience that a badge and a half-assed story about an accidental gun shot can take you a long way, especially if you can write a check for the damages. Needless to say, the poor Latin American chick that had to clean up after us got a big tip from the guy who almost blew her head off. God only knows how much worse it mighta gone if they knew I was with him at the motel, a teenaged boy almost young enough to be his grandson.
Maybe what got him some sympathy from the motel manager was the fact that we were in North Carolina, which is already pretty much Deliverance land, a part of the country where even baby cribs come with built-in gun racks. Coffey told me after we hit the road that the manager even pulled out his sawed-off 12 gauge that he kept under the counter and my guardian told me he pretended to have a good laugh with him over the incident (that is, once he passed him a check for $300.).
“I’m really sorry about that, kiddo. I’ve never done that before. It was like… like you were there with me but embedded in my memory. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t relive at least a few moments of that day but I swear it was never like that before. It was never that real.” He looked over to me with real sorrow in his eyes. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I’m supposed to be keeping you safe, for crissake.”
“Alright, it’s over, dude. I won’t ask you about him ever again. Besides, I have to tell you something.” When he looked at me again, I pulled out the audio recorder and played back what I’d recorded in the bathroom the night before.
The ghost that I thought was Clarissa was obviously an imposter somehow, which meant that the closest thing we had to a plan was now dog shit. Coffey kept heading south, even though he obviously had no fucking clue where we were going to go now. Then suddenly he took an exit, circled around and began heading north.
“Where are we going, dude?”
“What’s in Virginia?”
“Virginia. My older sister.” He looked at me again. “Her name is Virginia, too. And she’s the only person I can trust.”
Elle had long since briefed her boss about Coffey. Later that night, after discovering that his kid was killed in a freak accident after a kidnapping gone wrong, she dug deeper and discovered what happened in Bosnia during Coffey’s last mission with the Green Berets.
After the second briefing, Blood had said, “Shit, between his kid getting offed and what happened in Bosnia with that other teenaged boy, sounds to me like this is a man who’s definitely on a mission. He might even be delusional enough to think that Adam’s his own kid.” If it was supposed to set Elle’s mind more at ease to hear that her little brother was now in the custody of a former commando who still has issues, then it was failing miserably.
But Blood was nonetheless making a valid point: If anything or anyone, even Adam’s own sister, tried to get between him and Ed Coffey, there was no telling what he might do. There was no way to tell for sure or to accurately predict what was going through the homicide detective’s mind but it would be foolhardy at best to assume that he didn’t appoint himself Adam’s savior based on two tragedies that were largely beyond his control but for which he was accepting responsibility.
Milo Dragović uncertainly hovered above the floor of the Hole, reminding Dietrich of an astronaut in zero G floating before a port hole.
“You know what you’re asking, don’t you? Even if I could reach so many people, I will be helping you to unleash a war unlike any other the world has ever seen. Millions could die.”
“I can understand your reluctance. You are used to working with much smaller figures. But yes, Milo, I know exactly what I am asking for.”
“How am I to reach ten million lost souls and how could you hope to control them?”
“Let me take care of that. Just make sure that your oratorical skills haven’t decayed along with your body.”