Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Bone Bridge: Chapter 33

It was the most fucked-up thing that ever happened to me, dude. I was in two places at once, like past and present. Yet I wasn’t anywhere. I could see everything that was going on in Virginia’s living room. Blood and my sister coming in from two directions, everyone yelling at eachother waving guns and asking about me and there I was, sitting on the floor yelling back, “You fucking idiots, here I am! Can’t you see or hear me?” I felt solid to myself but it was if I didn’t exist.

It was my greatest fear, being a ghost, not seen or heard, like I never existed. For years I always thought it was such an irrational reason for freaking out that I never told anyone else about it except for Clarissa and even then I waited until the night she died to tell her. Now I was realizing to my horror that maybe it wasn’t so irrational, after all.

Then almost like I had another head, this one tuned to the past, I was just getting out of Coffey’s car and Virginia ran up to another me and wrapped me up in a hug just like the day we met. Except nothing like it seemed real. Then back to the screaming, my sister putting Virginia in handcuffs, Blood doing the same thing to Coffey. Laura picked up my skateboard, took something out of one of my trucks and hugged it. Then everyone drove off and leaving the dogs alone outside. They were still whimpering and I wondered if even they could see and hear me or were scared shitless by that Nazi asshole that tried to snatch me.

I got off the floor and looked up to where he was and saw nothing but the bullet holes that Coffey put in the ceiling. Then he and Virginia were back. They were on the back deck while I or some other version of me was playing with the dogs. I walked to the back yard until I realized my feet weren’t touching the grass and that I was levitating. Being able to fly almost made up for my not being seen or heard.

I flew above my other self and tried to get my own attention. The dogs could see me or had seen me, whatever. Then Virginia was getting something, spinach maybe, out of the freezer and soon she started making the dinner I already ate while I set the table again. I didn’t know if I was hallucinating or time-traveling but I wanted to check something out. If I was just a spirit somehow and if this was where my body somehow had gone, I wondered what would happen if I tried to merge with myself. I concentrated while someone with an Australian or English accent was whispering to me, “You got the right idea, mate. No worries. Keep concentrating.”

(Sydney, Australia, May 2000)

Even after she got recruited by ADEPT shortly after killing a man, Mathilda Hogan never told them about her most potent, and dangerous, ability. In her out of body experiences, when she’d travel the world in her astral projected form, she wasn’t merely restricted to the present time frame. Somehow, she was able to channel that energy backwards so that she could go back to the past. It was almost like being a ghost and reliving a never-ending residual haunting except she’d discovered in the past year that she wasn’t confined to doing the same things infinitum ad nauseum. Then she realized as she developed this ability with manic singlemindedness that she could actually inhabit living hosts. In her astral form, she couldn’t interact with people in any way but if she took over a person’s mind and body, she was able to actually influence past events.

Like most ten year-olds who would discover this ability, she wasted her newly-found and rapidly developing powers by changing things that related solely to her. That math test she’d flunked last month was now, whether or not she earned it, an A+ when she inhabited Mrs. Macdonald’s corporeal being. Her cousin Bennie who’d once sat on her head last summer was forced to walk into a drainage ditch, spraining his arm. Thinking in such a small, solipsistic manner, she wasn’t in danger of influencing world events. No matter how much this butterfly flapped her wings, it wouldn’t result in a hurricane on the other side of the world.

Today it almost all changed and the implications scared the shit out of her.

Despite how rapidly her powers were developing, she still wasn’t close to using them maturely. What should have been a primary consideration was to her a secondary one, namely the security of her corporeal being during her OBE’s. Most ten year-olds take their safety for granted and naturally assume no one will do their bodies any harm. Yet that didn’t mean it wasn’t disturbed. While hop-scotching from one body to another in Sydney during her out of body experiences she’d never sensed anything wrong or untoward happening to her body. Mathilda’s assumption was that it had remained undisturbed, especially since she’d generally go into her trance in areas more secluded than her bedroom. Pop was gone but her Mum wouldn’t understand and would probably freak out if she walked in and found her only child in a catatonic state.

There was a favorite spot from which she loved to project, an abandoned building in the brush on the outskirts of Sydney. She wasn’t sure what it used to be but it didn’t matter. She was foolhardy and adventurous by nature and could never recall feeling fear or any real sense of trepidation that children typically fear when confronting the unknown. It was empty, it never seemed to be inhabited and that was good enough for her.

Slipping into a body was a sensuous feeling. There was never any sense of invasion, especially since her temporary possessions never seemed to result in any ill effects worse than profound confusion to her hosts. It was almost like putting on a really thick but warm coat. She could inhabit their minds and know their innermost thoughts and while she couldn’t understand some of the thoughts of the grownups in whose minds and bodies she’d inhabited these past few months, some of them did disturb her.

On this day, Mathilda had walked into this abandoned building made of cinderblocks, her rucksack of schoolbooks still on her back. She walked into her usual room, an abandoned office that had a desk and a beat-up black leather couch. She decided she’d like to see the famous opera house in Sydney that she’d seen countless times from a distance but had never actually seen up close. So Mathilda lowered her breathing, concentrated and began to lift from her body, free-floating toward the famous piece of architecture. It was weirdly beautiful, its clamshell-like structure reminding her of the shell of a Texas armadillo. Yet it was another thing entirely to be actually able to walk inside it like a normal human being. So she chose the body of a stout, middle-aged woman. As usual, her host shuddered as Mathilda began her benevolent possession and was completely unmindful of the dark man who’d just entered the cinderblock building and came upon her lifeless form.

All of Sydney had, of course, been on alert for what the press had dubbed The Bushman. He was a child predator of the worst sort in much the same manner as his American counterpart Edd Corn, the infamous child rapist-murderer who terrorized New England for years.

Unlike Corn, however, the half white/half aboriginal Bushman didn’t make any distinction between genders. Those 13 and under were fair game. And the ponytailed little girl sitting in a lotus position in his usual crime scene was the perfect age.

Oh, she was lovely and he guessed that if her eyes were open they’d be just as lovely, too, and he wondered what color they were. Amazingly, she hadn’t heard him enter the building even though the metal door creaked and his feet dryly shuffled on the sandy floor. He knelt before her, looking at her lithe, supple form, the skin on her perfect thighs a light caramel color. Her fine, glistening dark blonde hair was flawlessly pulled back in a sort of half ponytail, exposing and framing her gorgeous, oval face.

He snapped his fingers before her closed eyes and got no reaction. He had no idea why she was so insensible or what she was doing here but he wasn’t about to question the gods whether they were crazy. Instead, he’d gratefully accept this present from them and the Bushman got up and locked the door from inside.

The woman whose body she’d inhabited walked far more slowly than she would’ve liked. She wasn’t from Down Under at all but another American tourist there to see whatever few noteworthy sites Australia had to offer. She complained to her husband that her body didn’t feel right and admitted to feeling a sense of anxiety and urgency. That, of course, was Mathilda trying to get her to walk toward the famous building more quickly but it and the heat only seemed to tax the heavyset woman’s cardiovascular system. The girl shuddered with disgust as the woman began to sweat profusely. While occupying a host body, she could feel everything from the workings of the endocrine system to the cardiovascular to the neurological. She felt sexual desire for the first time while occupying adult bodies and she found she liked it if not necessarily the thoughts that came with it.

Mathilda realized she’d chosen too hastily and scouted about for a younger and more mobile body when she felt a tugging on her own. She couldn’t imagine why she was feeling that since she was not really here but back in the derelict building kilometers away. Then she had the sensation of being laid flat and pinned in place even though this host body and her astral self were perpendicular to the ground. What legs she would’ve had experienced a sense of being gently but forcibly spread. Then a sharp phantom pain between her thighs. What the bloody hell…?

She decided to abandon her sightseeing tour and abruptly left the corpulent woman’s body in favor of her own. She passed over the city of Sydney as quickly as the weird laws of paranormal physics allowed as she sped over the city, the brush, toward the building, through the building, down the hall. Mathilda saw a large man’s silhouette hunched over the couch and, beneath his naked body, her own, her flowered print dress lying in a crumpled heap on the floor next to the leather futon.

Imagine their mutual shock when Mathilda’s green/hazel eyes suddenly flew open like a doll’s and predator and prey looked at eachother.

Mathilda Hogan soon became a household name, albeit briefly, after her attacker was found dead. It was quickly established by Sydney police that her assailant and rapist was none other than The Bushman. His real name was Roland Davies and he’d been terrorizing parents across Australia for just over two years. The official body count of his exploits stood at 13 but Sydney police had every reason to fear it was actually much higher.

Of course, despite the fact that this little ten year-old girl was somehow able to do on her own what the police couldn’t, despite the relief that swept over the nation from Prime Minister Howard on down, some questions had to be answered. For starters, what was she doing in that building to begin with? She could have just said that Davies had abducted her on her way back from school but it wouldn’t have explained why she never took the bus that dropped her off a few doors from home. Mathilda wasn’t a liar by habit, anyway, and she frankly told the authorities at the hospital that she walked into the building.

It also didn’t explain how or why Davies would then suspend his rape of the girl to take out of its leather scabbard a buck knife with a blade ten inches long and two inches wide and violently jab it into his right eye or why Mathilda Hogan was also complaining of pain in her own undamaged right eye. She frankly told them how that had happened, too.

Also unexplained was why a certain Yank intelligence agency developed the liveliest interest in Mathilda. After speaking with her single mother, who was all too glad to pass off responsibility of her headstrong and adventurous daughter to people with the resources to give her structure and the education she needed, they’d secured unlimited guardianship of Mathilda. They brought her back to the States and, when she was old enough, even subsidized her pursuit of a four year degree at Georgetown University.

Mathilda always had the ability to go back to past events and she knew that she could change her personal history by simply avoiding that building or tracking down her rapist and killing him before he’d manage to lay a filthy hand on her body. But that would’ve meant never meeting Oliver Blood, ADEPT, powers developing to the point they had and never “meeting” Adam, that smoking hot, wickedly sexy boy.

If she’d changed all that, if she’d never caught the attention of Oliver Blood with her frank and open description of her psychic powers, she wouldn’t be who she was. And Mathilda Hogan liked very much who and what she was. Certainly, she would never be nearly as powerful as Adam Moss would one day be. Yet she was still perhaps the most dangerous of the adepts currently employed by the agency. However, sometimes, in her dorm room or at headquarters in unguarded moments, 19 year-old Mathilda Hogan wondered if her reluctance to go back and change history was just simply fear of seeing her dead assailant once again.

Hopefully, Adam would be braver than that since he’d absorbed her power to go back to the past and had suddenly demonstrated a latent ability of teleporting his body elsewhere.

The Bone Bridge: Chapter 32

The dogs were no longer barking. It was like a mournful keening, as if someone very loved by them was suddenly taken away. They almost sounded like wolves calling out for a moon that no longer existed.

“OK, you know the drill,” Blood said to Elle, “I take the front and you take the back. We don’t know what this Coffey asshole’s state of mind will be when we go in. But we do this by the book. No matter who they got in there, we’re still professionals.”

“I gotcha,” Laura said, pulling her hair back in a hasty ponytail. She was filled with trepidation and Blood hadn’t seen that look since she was a rookie.

“Look, I know that’s your kid brother in there. That’s why I’m doubly countin’ on you staying frosty and doing the right thing, alright?”

“Don’t worry about me. Just worry about Coffey if he tries to keep me from my brother.”

“Yeah, that’s what I am worried about,” Blood said as they exited the Lincoln that was parked on the dirt road below the house.

They stiff-armed their guns pointing down then split up when Blood nodded. They tried to get backup from their agency but were told there was no one they could get in the area within the time Oliver wanted to infiltrate the house. The homing beacon had emitted a shrill, constant signal when they came upon it, meaning at least the kid’s skateboard was still on the premises. He just had to trust that Elle knew her brother as well as she claimed and that he’d never leave behind his skateboard.

Blood could hear shouting. He could hear Coffey yelling, “Where’d he go?!” and some woman yelling back “I don’t know!” He could also hear dogs, three or four maybe, barking and baying in the back yard and he hoped they were fenced in or tethered to something sturdy because they sounded fucking huge.

He kicked in the front door and trained his Browning 9 mm at Coffey who had his back to him and his own 9 mil pointed at the ceiling. A second later, Elle came in through the rear, her gun also aimed at Coffey’s head. Every room was dim and Blood instantly realized every light in the house was off, which was odd considering it was well into dusk and almost dark out.

“Drop it, Coffey! Federal agents.” Coffey released his grip on the gun and it swiveled upside down so the barrel faced the floor.

“Where’s my brother, you piece of shit?!” Elle hissed through her teeth as she took his gun, flung it across the room and pushed Coffey face-first on the couch in one smooth motion. “Answer me, Goddamn it, or so help me God…!”

“Elle, lemme handle this. You go secure the area.”

“Oh, fuck that keep-the-recruit-busy bullshit. The area is secure.”

“Moss, I said stand down.”

“Look, my brother doesn’t know where he is, either. The boy just… disappeared.”

“Bullshit, lady. People don’t just vanish into thin air. Now where did you put him, Ed? I’m not going to ask you again.”

“I told you, that prick came in, tried to snatch him, he dropped your brother after I pumped a few rounds into him and then he just… Poof.”

Elle looked up at the ceiling. Right where the top of the wall met the ceiling she could barely see in the gloom three bullet holes and she wondered why in hell Coffey would be firing 12 feet in the air if he wasn’t telling the truth.

“Who the hell are you, anyway?” Laura asked the buxom redhead.

“Virginia Hobbes. I’m the homeowner and Eddie is my brother. And he’s telling you the truth. Some flying asshole in a Nazi uniform suddenly appeared above our heads, your brother Adam was dangling five or six feet in the air then suddenly the place was full of ghosts.” Elle knowingly looked at Blood and he returned the look.

“What?” Ed asked his sister. “Full of ghosts? Right here?”

The lights suddenly came on when the solar panel batteries began expending their reserves and everyone looked up. The air vents of the centralized heating system also kicked in.

“Yes. I could only see the Nazi scumbag who tried to take Adam but I felt the presence of the others. They were protecting the boy.”

“So that’s why it was so fucking cold in here.” Coffey turned around on the sofa and sat normally. For a half minute there he was facing the back of the couch and it was obviously playing hell on his back. “Look, Laura, what we’re saying is true. That fascist fuck just popped in here, tried to snatch Adam then he just disappeared.”

“What about Jodl?” Blood asked, holstering his weapon. “Did they go at the same time or did Adam vanish first?”

“I… don’t know. I think they disappeared at the same time. I noticed Adam disappearing first because he was still on the ground. The other guy, the Nazi, was flailing around like he’d been attacked by a swarm of bees. Then I looked up and he was gone, too.”

Blood passed his large hand over his close-cropped, snow white hair and puffed out his lips in a deep sigh. He raised his eyebrows and looked at Coffey and Virginia.

“What do we do with them?” Elle asked her boss.

“They’ve seen too much. Cuff ‘em.”

“What? Bullshit, you fuckin’ dandelion.” But Elle still had her Glock 26 trained on him.

“Shut up. Adam wouldn’t be missing if it wasn’t for you, asshole.”

“Oh, you got a lotta nerve. The kid couldn’t even trust his own sister. I didn’t tell him to run off. He took off on his own.”

“And if you hadn’t been tailing us, you fucking asshole,” Elle said, taking a quick step toward him, “he wouldn’t have had anywhere to run. What the hell were you doing following my brother, let alone federal agents?”

“E-nough! Moss, chill. The. Fuck. Out. You sound like you’re arguing with your baby brother. I will handle this, capish? Now cuff the lady. I got Coffey. They’re comin’ with us.”

“With us to where?” Elle said as she broke out her set of cuffs.

“Back to headquarters.”

So I was finally getting a taste of what some of my suspects experienced when I'd put them in the back of a cruiser. It didn’t give me any more empathy over what brief misery we must’ve put them through when we racheted the cuffs too tight and shoved them in and making them tighten up some more. Those pricks I’d arrested as a patrol officer and a homicide detective deserved what they got. I didn’t.

I had a lot to think about as I spent a big part of the ride to the nearest airport in the back seat trying to reach the handcuff keys in my right front pocket. Since my wrists were cuffed behind my back, it was virtually impossible and I could only move my arms and shoulders so much to the right. So far I was barely able to get the tips of my right fingers into the opening of my side pocket.

What happened back at my sister’s place made a lot of sense and it helped answer some questions about the murder scene at the Ritz Carlton on Halloween night. The first thing that came to mind was the drop in temperature. It was colder and bitterer than my mother in law when I got plastered and threw up at our wedding reception. But after Adam fell, it was almost like a freezer and Virginia and I could see our own breath. That was pretty consistent with what I’d seen and felt in the aftermath of the Halloween massacre. I thought of the ice crystals on Mrs. Dumont’s face.

And even though I knew Adam’s dance card was for some reason filled by Beetlejuice and company, even I had a hard time believing his stories about that Nazi prick who’d offed the Christianson family until I saw him with my own eyes. The flashlight that I shined at him actually went through him even though he looked solid. But it was the look in Adam’s green eyes that terrified me. He may have been defiant up until the moment he disappeared at Virginia’s feet but the look on his face was absolutely identical to the one that Chaz had on his face just before Clossey…

In a way, I tried to empathize with Laura because if anything she was even more emotionally attached to the kid than I ever had a right to be. It wasn’t quite the same thing as what I went through but her brother disappeared under the most incredible of circumstances and she had no idea if she’d ever see him alive again. Right after she cuffed my sister and before Blood led us outside, I saw her pick up Adam’s skateboard off the living room floor. She cried and had hugged it against her chest exactly the way I did Chaz’s after he was taken from us.

I looked over at Virginia as I slowly twisted my shoulders to try to get my hands deeper into my pocket. She stiffly sat up straight, her eyes closed as if in concentration. Years of seeing Virge indulge in weirdness when we were growing up taught me to never interrupt her when she was doing that yoga shit. So I left her alone while I tried to get my handcuff keys and prayed that where ever he was, Adam was nowhere near that Nazi prick.

The Bone Bridge: Chapter 31

They were known as the rarest and most powerful of all adepts. They were more powerful, in fact, than any psychic, medium, ghost or spirit. They were gatekeepers and never more than one had ever existed at a time.

Neither the living nor the dead could ever divine why or how these keepers of the gate separating their worlds were chosen. Some said personal virtue, others said pure evil and still others opined that it was a random choice that was conferred on one like a supernatural lottery. Likewise, it was never ascertained by whom this honor was conferred or whether it was the random, chaotic process of a cosmic scheme of things or intelligent design.

Every generation or two had one for at least 10,000 years. Some were virtuous, some were evil while most were neither. A few were famous and most others obscure. They were male and female, young, old and in the middle, Caucasian, black, yellow and brown. But there was no one common denominator uniting them. Adam Moss was the strangest choice in centuries, thought Jodl as he was on his way to where the boy was.

The last gateman before Adam Moss died hours before his near-fatal car accident. There was also speculation that those who had died young, suddenly or violently had committed some taboo, had violated some cosmic order and that such a transgression necessitated an abrupt adjustment.

Only two things were agreed upon by all who knew of the gatekeeper: S/he was theoretically the most powerful human in at least two dimensions and that their ability to wield that power depended upon them remaining alive. And Dietrich, Jodl had long since reasoned, was a fool for wanting this Jew boy dead even before he’d become cognizant of the full scope of his powers.

For reasons that even Dietrich didn’t realize, the Moss boy, Jew or gentile, was worth infinitely more alive than dead. Fuck Dietrich and his mysterious employer and underwriter. As Jodl hurtled toward the Moss boy’s unique and potent energy signature, he knew precisely how best to use him.

I had to admit for an older lady, Ed’s big sister was starting to grow on me and, no, it wasn’t just because of her big hooters (although that was part of it). Sometimes I thought that she was coming on to me but maybe that’s because she’s warm and sexual toward all males. Or maybe it’s because I remind her of her dead nephew.

It’s also kind of cool that Coffey and I have something in common in that we both have big sisters who sometimes tweak us and treat us like we’re still little kids.

There was one time in Vienna when Coffey saw a hornet on his sister’s window. He scoped out the place looking for something to trap it in. Finally he just put his hand over the yellowjacket. The fucking thing must’ve been stinging the shit out of him. But he kept the insect in both his hands until he could shoulder open the door and set it free.

He looked at his hands, cursed under his breath and walked into the bathroom. I asked Virge,

“Why didn’t he just swat that hornet?”

“Because he killed enough as a Green Beret, Sweetie.”

“He was a Green Beret?”

“A long time ago. He does this now, freeing the lost and trapped, saving the hopeless, giving second chances, no matter what the cost to him. He began doing this when he first went into the police academy but especially after Chaz died.”

I looked outside and remembered it was a chilly November day and that in the act of freeing and helping it, he might’ve wound up killing the damned thing.

Ghosts don’t always subscribe to stereotypes. Sometimes they don’t oblige us and take the form of entities wearing sheets and dragging chains. Ghosts can also be memories and they can dog and haunt you just like the real thing, saying “Boo!” in an infinite variety of ways.

For over 15 years, Chaz, Bea and I had populated our neighborhood, our city, with ghosts of ourselves. Supermarkets, bike trails, ball fields, skateboard parks and board shops, restaurants. We’d saturated the place with memories, memories that now take on the guise of residual hauntings.

Residual hauntings and the events therein never change, the subjects unaware of the still-living. It’s terribly, cruelly unilateral as you can’t interact with them while they affect you in ways they can’t imagine or would care to. Each memory is a ghost of Bea, Chaz and me. Without knowing it, we’d created a city of ghosts in our images. Every place my boy had been to, everywhere he walked or skated on his board is both infinitely more precious and more painful. Even here at my sister’s house, I’m surrounded by ghosts and almost all of them look like my dead boy, the only child I’m ever going to have.

So is it any wonder why my heart went out to this poor kid whose life had also been co-opted by the dead?

In a way, it was almost like her former addiction to those webcam sites where models would do live sex shows for two or three bucks a minute. Even after she’d disconnect, she’d weaken, log on again and put another $30 on her maxed-out credit card. It was worse than heroin. Then she’d find her favorite model if he was logged on, send herself to where he was whether he was in Bogota, Colombia, St. Petersburg, Russia or Manila, Philippines and have her way with whatever lucky soul she’d inspire to a monstrous orgasm and ejaculation.

Mathilda Hogan found herself addicted to Adam Moss and his sexuality, his stunning good looks and sweetness of temperament. Oliver just told her to hightail it back to ADEPT headquarters, which was where she was now, not to continue her supernatural surveillance. But she found herself in a safe room at headquarters, wet-hacking herself back into Adam’s world and immediately felt cold, which was never a good sign.

“Is it getting cold in here or is it just me?” Virginia asked Adam. She reluctantly let go of his hands and gathered her knit sweater around herself.

“You’re right,” he said, looking outside. The sun hadn’t gone behind a cloud. It was chilly outside but since none of the windows were open, there was nothing that could account for the sudden drop in temperature. In seconds, it had gotten so cold in the living room, Adam and Virginia could see their breath. Then she finally said, “Someone’s here,” as she stood up and called for her brother.

I’ve heard my sister call out my name before in all kinds of moods. She’d call to me when she was pissed off, exasperated or when she’d try to charm me into doing something that neither of us wanted to do. But I’ve never heard Virginia summon me with dread and panic and her voice was laden with both. That’s why, even though my hands were still stinging from that damned yellowjacket, I already had my gun drawn when I left the bathroom and immediately noticed that the rest of the house was like a reefer and all the lights were off.

Outside, all four of Virginia’s dogs were howling like it was the end of the world.

Because of all the times I’ve been surrounded by ghosts, I can tell you from first-hand experience, dude, that when they come calling, a good sign of their presence is when the temperature drops and batteries drain. Back when I was a kid and I was studying the paranormal, I read somewhere that when ghosts manifest, they draw energy from the air and ghost hunters with fresh batteries would have them drained in seconds just before shit happened.

Virginia didn’t have a normal electrical hookup. She’d explained to me that her home was powered with solar panels and stored in batteries somewhere. That meant that whoever had arrived at her house had a shitload of energy to suck up. And just as Coffey came rushing out of the bathroom, the lights went out and we had no illumination but whatever little we were getting from the sunset.

“Virge, where’s your flashlight?” I called into the darkness, my eyes still adjusting. The lights were on in the bathroom but by the time I burst through the door they were all off. I or anyone else who knew that Virginia had solar panels to light and warm the house would’ve assumed that we’d gotten enough sunlight to power the whole place for days.

“The kitchen drawer. Don’t get the battery-powered one. Take the silver one that cranks.”

“What the hell’s the difference?”

“There’s a big difference,” I heard. But it was Adam’s voice. Both of them knew something that I apparently didn’t. So I went rummaging through her drawer and finally found a silver thing that looked more like an electric shaver than a flashlight. I thumbed the rubber-coated on-off switch but nothing happened.

“How the hell do you turn this thing on?” I said asked as I rushed back into the living room. The crank was recessed and I had to pull it out and wind the thing up to power up the capacitor. It whined and whined like a remote control car until I could get the thing to light and when I shined it toward the couch, I wished I hadn’t. Adam was suspended about six feet in the air while Virginia was trying to pull him down by his ankles.

“Don’t just stand there, you dumb shit,” she yelled, “do something!”

Above her, above Adam was a guy in a Nazi uniform perfectly answering the kid’s description of the guy who murdered the Christiansons.

Mathilda had never seen this guy before. He was dressed in the uniform of a Nazi officer but looked almost real enough to pass for human. But this so-called human was levitating about seven or eight feet in the air and holding up Adam by his clothes while he struggled to free himself.

“Lemme go, you fuck!” the kid was saying.

Even in her astral projection, Mathilda could feel the cold and immediately sensed there wasn’t much energy in the air from which to draw, which further weakened her. At least while she was unsuccessfully guiding the kid and his handler to headquarters, she could draw energy from the cop’s constantly-charging 12 volt car battery. Traveling from place to place she could also draw from power lines and other EMF sources. But now there was virtually no electromagnetic field with which to energize herself and she immediately felt weaker. The only other alternative was to draw from the life force from the three living people in this house and after that accidental fatality in Sydney nine years ago, she vowed to never do that ever again. But what choice did she have?

Then she saw others, real spirits, flocking toward Adam, including the girl that she’d cruelly impersonated a couple of days ago. And that just further drained the EMF in the whole house.

The next thing I knew, I was hurtling back to the floor and that had something to do with that Nazi fuck named Yodel letting me go and Virginia tugging on my feet. I landed on top of her and we both wound up on the floor. I could still feel the ice cold sensation on my back from where he grabbed my clothes from behind. Coffey came running into the living room training Virginia’s little wind-up flashlight on him and fired three shots through him and into the wall where it met the ceiling. Yodel just smiled down at him as he produced some more scalpel things like the ones he used to practically decapitate the Christiansons.

The piece of shit stopped smiling when he found himself surrounded by the Christianson twins, Clarissa and a shitload of other ghosts that I never saw before, including some really hot chick with an Emo hairdo that looked at me with the same “I wanna fuck you” way “Clarissa” did on the road.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Bone Bridge: Chapter 30

Chapter 30

65,000,000,000 had come and gone before us and roughly 10,000,000 of them loitered between our world and the other side. And he was on his way to communicate with them.

He was using the rarest and least known map in all of human history. It was also the most invaluable. It wasn’t a map drawn on papyrus or paper by professional cartographers. It wasn’t one that mapped out capes, panhandles, islands, peninsulas and the like. You couldn’t get to any place on this invaluable piece of cartography by plane, ship or car. What was charted on it was not defensible by land, sea or air. There were no national boundaries or even countries.

Nonetheless it was a map that would lead any navigator brave or foolhardy enough to be led by it to the vastest, most potent yet least controllable force in all the humanly recognized dimensions, a realm far more powerful than even the greatest terrestrial empires. Essentially, it was a map of the entire underworld, one that led those who could follow it to the temporary yet eternal realm of the displaced dead, those who went neither to what was really heaven, hell or purgatory. Theologians had called it limbo.

It was first charted by a 14th century Transylvanian mystic and monk, the Rasputin of his time. The Venerable Balascu’s map, roughly translated as “Charon’s Way” by those extremely select few who’d known about it, detailed the vast, virtually limitless No Man’s Land that served as the place of endless transition between the living and the dead. Culled through decades of meditation and so-called out-of-body experiences, Brother Balascu was revered by those extremely select few who’d studied his work for being the only living man to freely roam between the realms of the living and the dead.

Milo Dragović knew that he didn’t have much time. Dietrich somehow had managed to keep a tether on him linking him to the Hole. Time essentially was meaningless here but back on earth it was still something that could be measured in nanoseconds and he knew he didn’t have much time to waste.

The map was actually a series of incantations penned by Belascu that opened seemingly endless portals. The forever-displaced dead were able to navigate their way without the spells as if guided by some preternatural instinct or guidance from a higher power but Dragović, for undefined reasons, needed the map. In lieu of landmarks, each opened portal let know whoever was being guided by Charon’s Way that they were indeed still on the right path. It was actually surprisingly reminiscent of Dante’s depiction of the netherworld in his Divine Comedy. Only instead of nine circles, there were dozens of realms alternately filled with light or darkness, forests or wastelands, unearthly necropolises, and some resembling classical renditions of both heaven and hell.

The map was implanted into Dragović’s ruined head by none other than Belascu himself, one of Dietrich’s earliest acquisitions. What Belascu had seen 700 years ago Dragović was now seeing and in exactly the right sequence. When word spread throughout Transylvania and beyond about his supernatural sojourns, he was burned at the stake as a heretic.

The dead dictator was now in a realm that was the strangest one, yet, a bleak and dark world or dimension in which the denizens were petrified and rooted to the ground, some of them resembling small trees. Dragović could feel the eyes following him as he looked around and muttered the last incantation that would lead him to the largest realm of all, the only one that served as a common area for all of the ten million trapped souls.

The dead dictator knew that not all of them would be converted. Yet out of ten million, he knew he could summon for Dietrich an army of the undead that could easily accomplish his goals. He briefly wondered if he would see Irina here or if she would be able to seek him out and find him. He hoped against hope as he passed through the final portal.

The brightest light he’d ever seen overtook him as he finished the last syllable of the spell. Even though he no longer had eyes in the biological sense, it overwhelmed him and he wondered if this was the bright white light he’d heard others speaking of after near death experiences. After his sight had adjusted he was greeted with a scene that was astounding.

It was astounding to him because he stood atop a mountain looking down at a valley that was very terrestrial, familiar, even. On either side of the valley, mountains in the distance higher than any in the Urals dissolved in gauzy light. He began walking down even though his ruined ankle that was shattered by a bullet in 1991 made any ambulation difficult. He could see streaks of light far below him flitting back and forth like fireflies in a manner very similar to the manifestations of his cellmates back in the dreaded Hole.

There was no sun or discernible source of light yet everything was brightly illuminated as if Dragović was seeing in all light spectrums. While the mountain was a muted gold color, the landscape below him was bone white. That’s why he didn’t see the Bridge of Bone mentioned by Belascu until he got down to the foothills. It was a bridge that spanned no river and made no apparent sense. Dragović then saw a luminescent figure coalesce into a vaguely humanoid shape that quickly moved across the bridge. Since time didn’t exist here, they met in the middle sooner than he expected.

It was a wizened man, kindly in aspect, and he wore a hood over his head. While he was ancient, his face bore no wrinkles or bags under the eyes. Dragović looked at his feet and the skulls that made up various parts of the bridge smiled up at him.

“This place looks oddly familiar. It reminds me of some parts of my native country.”

“What you see is not what I see, save for this symbolic bridge. As with everything when we were alive on earth, it is subject to interpretation. This common realm looks differently to everyone else.”

“What does it look like to you and what is this bridge supposed to symbolize?”

“It is a bridge for the dead that reaches back from whence we all came. Those who live here in what some have called limbo are free to go back using this bridge. Yet it is a bridge without a shore. They find when they go back that there is nothing awaiting them. Hardly anyone can see or hear them. The world of substance passes through their flesh. And very few of the living are gifted enough to communicate with us. Yet despite constant failure, some never come back. They refuse to move on.” Move on to what? Dragović asked himself as he looked around at the bleakness. The hooded figure inclined his head in curiosity, which was in itself a curiously durable human trait.

“Who are you? And how did you get here?” They spoke no earthly dialect. While conversing in neither Milo’s native Slavic tongue, Russian or any manmade language, they nonetheless understood each other perfectly.

“Milo Dragović,” he proudly said and expected the man to expect him. He did.

“Ah. It took you long enough to get here. It takes most of us much sooner. Did you need Belascu’s map?”

Dragović touched his ruined head at the temple.

“I see you have not come alone.”

Dragović wondered what he was talking about then assumed that he could see the tether of energy that kept him connected to that damned chamber of Dietrich’s.

“Which side will you inhabit?” the wizened man asked, gesturing to one end of the bone bridge then the other. Dragović looked at both sides of the bleached, bone-white landscape and they looked identical.

“Neither. I haven’t much time. I have to speak with everyone here.”

“To what end?”

“Freedom and vindication.”

The ancient figure smiled, pulled back his hood and finally revealed some laugh lines around his toothless mouth and elsewhere on his eyeless face, another curious relic of his former humanity.

The Bone Bridge: Chapter 29

Chapter 29

“So, do you like it here, Honey?” Adam looked up from the television and at Virginia.

“Yeah. You have a really cool place here. And you have some awesome dogs.” He stopped and frowned. “We don’t have any dogs at home. My Mom’s afraid of them.”

“That’s a shame. Dogs make for the most awesome people.” Adam nodded in agreement. “Sweetie, I need you to tell me what you see, what exactly happened to you after you woke up from your coma.”

“Your brother told you?”

“Of course. He told me everything. After all, there was a reason why he brought you to me.”

“And what’s that?”

“I have… certain abilities, too. Whereas most people with abilities can do just one thing or the other, I have several abilities.”

“Like what?”

“Like seeing auras, feeling the presence of paranormal entities, foretelling the future, even mentally communicating with them. You have to understand, Adam,” Virginia said as she steepled her fingers, “my brother Eddie was never a big believer in people with psychic abilities. At least, not until after Chaz passed away. So for him to turn around in the Carolinas and to bring you here to me took a huge leap of faith for him. So I need to know every detail of what’s going on in your life because…”

“Because what?”

“I’m sensing that you and my brother didn’t arrive here alone.”

“You’re right about that.” Still, the teenager looked at her skeptically. “What are you sensing?”

“A… an imposter. Someone pretending to be what they’re not. But I can’t tell more until I channel your energy through me.” She took his hands in hers and relished how they felt even as she closed her eyes and concentrated. They were warm and softer than kid leather. Even though he wasn’t instructed to, Adam closed his eyes, too.

“I sense at least three others are with you but they’re not aware of each other. One’s pretending to be someone who was dear to you.”

“Not was. Is. She was my girlfriend. She died on Halloween night.”

“I feel your sadness over that loss, your pain. But this… this Other. Not only is she not your loved one, she’s not even a paranormal entity.”

“What?” Adam said as his big green eyes flew open. “Are you serious? She’s not even a ghost?”

“No. The other two are. But not this imposter. But she now knows you’re on to her. We need to tell her in no uncertain terms that we know who she is and what she’s up to.”

“What is her name?”

“She’s a psychic named Matilda or something like that. And she’s close by. In fact, she may even know exactly where you are right now.”

Mathilda abruptly broke from the connection and quickly put her back against the wall of her dorm room. It wasn’t the optimal way to sever a connection and to reenter her body any more than merely hitting the power button is the best way to shut down a computer. But they were on to her, Adam and the old lady were, and she had to get out. “Fuck me,” she said in her Australian accent.

When she was picking the kid’s brain, she came across the perfect person over whom to superimpose her out-of-body presence. This Adam Moss kid had just lost someone near and dear to him and it didn’t take Mathilda long to find out about this Clarissa including every detail of her face and body that she’d downloaded from the kid’s mind.

They called her a “wet hacker”, a name she hated. Projecting an astral image and getting deeply into someone’s mind while in an out-of-body state was her specialty. Needing only a picture of her subject and an approximate location, she was more reliable than any bloodhound. A.D.E.P.T. had actively recruited her back when she was still a gangly girl of 10 but Oliver Blood and the American government had helped her focus, refine and strengthen her paranormal abilities to the point where she was a trusted covert field agent. The agency employed five other adepts like her but as far as she or anyone else knew, she was the only one of her kind.

She was angry with Adam for distrusting her but Mathilda knew she only had herself to blame. Rushed into service, she didn’t have much time to delve deeply enough into his mind to get a sense of this Clarissa’s personality to be able to mimic more than just her looks. And she sensed that Adam must’ve picked up on the lascivious looks she was directing at him. But she couldn’t help it. He was a looker and his libido was at least the equal of her own and that was saying a lot considering that Mathilda Hogan spent at least 10 hours a day thinking about sex.

But even if the kid and the old lady now were on to her, at least she got to hang around long enough to get an approximate fix on his location. She reached for her cell phone and thumbed in a number.

“Ollie? I got him. Coffey’s stashed him somewhere in Vienna, Virginia. And he has another adept helping him out.”

“Meet us at headquarters and call the other adepts. We’re gonna need all hands on deck for this one.” Blood put his cell phone back in his pocket. “The girl’s a horny little pain in the ass but I gotta admit, she’s good.”

“Was that Mathilda?”

“Yeah, and she backed up what this little doohickey here’s tellin’ us.” And Blood held up the tracking device giving them the location of the transponder that Elle had put under her brother’s skateboard. “They’re in Vienna, Virginia. They’re onto us and they have help.”

They were already on their way there and were about two hours out.

“Checkmate,” Jodl told Hans Dietrich in their native language. The living German looked again at the chessboard and realized the dead German was right. Dietrich knocked over his pieces.

He wondered if Jodl had yet seen the irony. As an officer in a concentration camp, he must have used the services of imprisoned Jews who were given free run of the compound, those who had special gifts or abilities and were used in much the same way as certain modern-day prisoners are given trustee status.

Jodl was the only trustee of his kind in the whole world. He was a captured spirit who had long since proven his trustworthiness because he had proven loyal to Dietrich’s cause. Whereas the other entities were kept in the Hole and on a leash of energy that prevented them from slipping away, Dietrich had grown to trust Jodl so much he knew he could send him out like a murderous homing pigeon and that he’d come back to roost every time.

So it was on Halloween night and again after the bloodbath at the Christianson house. Jodl was one of the very few multigifted entities in Dietrich’s ghostly army. He could summon at will razor-sharp weapons, fly, materialize through solid objects, interact with the physical world and find whomever he wanted anywhere in the world. Dietrich wondered if the sick fuck even knew how to teleport, he was so fast.

“Something has to be done about the Moss boy. The Christiansons were supposed to be a warning. Apparently, it did not work since the boy is in ADEPT’s custody.”

“Are you suggesting what I think you are, Herr Dietrich?” He smiled literally from ear to ear, another creepy gift of his. He had the ability to warp, deform or change his appearance at will while still often giving the uninitiated the appearance of being a living, solid human being.

“I am afraid so. It’s a shame. He could have been of so much help to us and I wouldn’t have to deal with that fat fuck in there,” he said, motioning to the Hole.

Jodl nodded. He knew Dietrich was talking about Dragović. Perhaps it was best that Jodl was trusted enough to live outside the Hole. The old Nazi was sure he would’ve eviscerated the old Communist the same way he did those twin girls back in Massachusetts. It wouldn’t have killed him any more than it would’ve killed the twins (there’s only one way to kill a ghost and mutilation is certainly not the way). But he would’ve given him more exquisite agony than even the energy field disruptor that Dietrich loved to use on the cantankerous.

“When do you want it done, Herr Dietrich?”

“Tonight. I want it to be over with. We cannot take a chance of him developing into what I suspect.”

“And that is?”

“Our worst nightmare. Go.”

The room containing the Hole immediately got warmer when Jodl disappeared through the steel door and Dietrich unzipped his leather trench coat. He looked at the Hole’s round window and wondered how Dragović was faring in his massive recruitment drive. Dietrich had done his part. Now it was up to Dragović to do his.

The Bone Bridge: Chapter 28

Part Two

Chapter 28
(Vienna, Virginia)

Her kid brother Eddie used to joke when she first painted her house that it “was done by the same people who design Valentine’s Day cards.” Indeed, Virginia Hobbes’ house was painted pink with red trimming. Pink paint from stem to stern and blood red shutters. Her late nephew Chaz in the last couple of years of his life took to calling it “the Pepto Bismol house.”

Oddly enough, she didn’t grow pink carnations and red roses in her front yard garden in keeping with the house’s garish color scheme. A woman with a stereotypically feminine eye for pink or scandalous crimson, Virginia insisted on growing a vegetable garden. Spinach, for reasons neither she not anyone else could ever fathom, was her gustatory and gardening passion. Eddie’s nickname for her was “Popeye.”

Yet little of it was grown for her own consumption. Her primary reason for the spinach patch was her dogs, her “organic dogs” as the neighbors called them. Her pack consisted of an Afghan, a Great Dane, a St. Bernard and a Newfoundland. By the time they were fully grown, her main spinach patch in the back yard had grown to half an acre.

She stood in the middle of what remained of her garden from the last harvest and considered expanding it to three quarters of an acre. Lord knew she had room to spare- Her back yard was fifteen acres. Something moved beside her feet among the remnants of the yellowed and shriveled spinach plants. It was an earthworm and she delicately picked it up and examined it. It slowly expanded and accordioned through her fingers.

“Hello, little dude. Better get your rest. You have your work cut out for you next spring and summer.” She then gently placed him where she found him and hoped none of the dogs would squash him when she’d let them out after dinner.

A car’s engine then diverted her attention to her driveway and she walked out of the ruins of her vegetable garden to investigate, although Virginia had suspected who it was. Sure enough, it was her kid brother Eddie.

“Pee Wee! You still driving that Ford? I thought the car gods would have done you a favor and flushed that piece of shit into the ecosystem by now!” Despite having lived in Virginia for the past 27 years, Virginia never lost her earthy Boston accent and brash northeast way of expressing herself.

Ed Coffey looked embarrassed at hearing his big sister’s decades-old sobriquet for him, a relic of their childhood. Then when she saw Adam get out of the passenger side, she stopped and looked at him. My God, what a gorgeous boy, she thought as he tossed his long bangs out of his eyes, even if his haircut left something to be desired. The kid clutched a skateboard against his chest and she wistfully thought of her nephew Chaz.

“Hey, Pee Wee, you and Bea get into the adoption business?” She gave her little brother a hug. She was 53 but with her buxom figure and flaming red hair tightly pulled back in a permanent half ponytail, she could’ve passed for Ed’s younger sister. She’d always ascribed her youth and vitality to living the organic lifestyle and was always trying to get Ed to do the same. Coffey would counter that chili dogs and stale coffee made him a sexual brontosaurus.

“Virge, do me a favor, huh? Ixnay on the Eepay eeway, okay?” He jerked his head back toward Adam, who remained at the passenger side of the car.

“Alright, alright. Hey, kid. Come on over. I won’t bite. Besides, I’m a vegetarian.” The kid took a tentative step toward the pair but remained beside the Crown Vic. “Oh. My. God. You got a shy one! I love the shy ones!” She then did something that Adam never expected- she took off in a full sprint toward him. Adam barely had time to look at Coffey once before he was smothered in arms and full breasts. Ed shook his head and went back to the car to pull out the gym bag.

Adam got knocked down in the back yard again by Neptune the St. Bernard. The other behemoths danced in a circle around him, waiting for him to get up so they, too, could knock him off his feet. The kid never stopped laughing from the moment he ran out with them.

“He’s got the gift, Eddie, I’m telling you. When I hugged him and touched his skin, I knew.”

“You don’t have to tell me that, Virge,” Ed said while sipping a glass of lemonade with her on the back deck that overlooked the spacious back yard. “When are you going to wash those fucking beasts? I could smell them all the way from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.”

“Shut the fuck up… Pee Wee.”

“I told you to stop calling me that, Virge.”

“Only in front of the kid. That’s about as far as I’ll bend.”

“But you’re right about him, Sis. He is special. His sister’s boss said something to him yesterday back in Boston, something about him ‘developing.’ Developing into what?”

Virginia turned to see Adam again, who momentarily regained his footing and dodged Neptune just before getting decked again by Jupiter the Afghan. Adam looked nothing like Chaz and was already at least two-two and half years older than her nephew had the chance to be. Yet in the way he played with the dogs, the way he moved and dodged between them, the way he opened up his lovely face with that laugh… It made her eyes water and Virginia Hobbes never cried even when her late industrialist husband died 11 years ago of cancer.

“Something the world has never seen before, Eddie. I don’t know what but even novelists haven’t imagined anything like what that kid will be.”

“What do you mean?” Eddie asked, inching closer to his sister.

She looked at him again before continuing. “There’s a tremendous energy not only around him but emanating from him. I can practically see his aura without looking too hard. With everyone else, I have to concentrate but not with him, his energy signature is so strong. Like I said, Eddie, I don’t know yet what he’s gonna become but I’ll tell you this much: You two didn’t come alone.”

Ed looked at his charge again. The dogs began another pursuit but it wasn’t of Adam. Whatever they were chasing was moving in circles around them and about four or five feet in the air. And even for Vienna, Virginia, it was too late in the year for insects.

“Let me guess: You don’t like my spinach.”

“Oh, no, ma’m, I like it fine.” Nonetheless, Adam picked at the food on his plate and poked through the spinach that Virginia had pulled out of the freezer as if he’d never seen the vegetable before.

“Look, just because I feed it to my dogs doesn’t mean that it’s dog food.”

“Oh, I know! It’s great, really. In fact, this is the first home-cooked meal that I’ve had in days. Plus, my Mom’s not that great a cook to begin with.”

“So, your family’s Jewish?”

“Yes. Though we’re really not that fanatical about it.”

“Yet you have the one Jewish mother who can’t cook. You poor kid. No wonder you’re so thin.” Adam shyly smiled and tossed his bangs out of his eyes.

“Oh, I love when you do that with your hair. You remind me so much of Chaz.” Adam suddenly looked uncomfortable and glanced over at Coffey.

“Careful, Sis. You’re old enough to be his grandmother.”

“Oh, shut the f… Shut up… Pee Wee. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Uh huh. You know what they used to call her in high school, Adam? You know, since we’re bringing out the nicknames?”

“Don’t you dare, you fat fuck.”

“They used to call her 50 Yard Line ever since a rather embarrassing story about her and the varsity football team on prom night.”

That is not true and you know it!” Virginia bellowed loud enough for Georgetown to hear.

“Uh huh.”

“Alright, it was only the star running back. How was I supposed to know that his voyeuristic teammates were watching from under the bleachers?”

“Thank God there weren’t any such things as video cameras and Youtube back then,” Ed said as he started to clear the table. Adam looked like he wanted to crawl under it with the dogs.

“It was just one guy and we weren’t even naked. Well, not totally. We were just, you know, making out.” Adam politely nodded. “The 50 yard line was Duane’s idea.”

Adam asked if he could be excused. Virginia said sure and after he was gone, she pinched the bridge of her nose. “God damn you, Eddie,” she whispered.

Ed came back from the kitchen and peeked into his sister’s living room. Adam was hunkered down on the couch, already flipping through the channels with the remote.

“Good, we’re finally alone.”

“You brought out that story just to get rid of him? Thanks a lot, asshole.”

“Hey, whatever works, right?” He handed her a slice of homemade apple pie and said as he licked his thumb, “Don’t call me Pee Wee in front of him ever again.”

“You have a point,” she said as she grabbed the plate from his hand. “It’s not as if you live up to your billing anymore. Unless Bea has something to add to that.” Ed gave her a caustic look.

“I think we’d better get off this track, Virge. I wanted to talk to you alone about Adam, anyway. You know why I brought him over here.”

“It wasn’t for my spinach and apple pie, that’s for sure.”

“You’re all I have. You’re the only other person in the world I can trust.”

“I know that. You think I’m stupid?”

“You have a gift, too. Something I never believed until just before Chaz died.”

Virginia had called Ed from this very same room nearly three years ago because of a nightmare and an unshakable sense of foreboding about Chaz. She dreamed that he fell from a great height and that Ed was going to see the whole thing. In fact, she’d described what would happen to him in almost perfect detail in her single dream. She’d had the gift her whole life although sometimes she’d call it a curse.

“I’ll do what I can with him, Eddie. But you have to understand, it’s not like a faucet I can turn on and off at will. The stars and houses have to be aligned just right and…”

“Yeah, yeah. Well, however you do it, just do it fast if you can. Because I just have a sense that they’re going to find us if we hang around here too much longer and I have no idea literally where to go from here.”

“I’ll do my best, Eddie. You know I will.” She turned in her chair and watched Jupiter, the smallest of the four dogs, get on Adam’s lap. The kid held his nose for a brief instant but kept the Afghan on his lap.

“And give those fucking dogs a bath, will ya? Before you get a visit from the Board of Health?”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Bone Bridge, Chapter 27

“Look, you may have to tell your girlfriend that I have to pull over and get some sleep,” I said. It was already half past midnight and every time I blinked I was less and less sure that I’d be able to reopen my eyes. Adam had no better an idea where we were headed than I did but at this point I would’ve given up my poor equivalent of a kingdom and a horse for a bed and pillow.

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-

“Don’t. Go!”

(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.”

“Then what?”

“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.

“And then…?”

“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?”

“I understand.”

“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.”

(End of Part One)