In the back seat of the sedan, Mr. Aye found where the pieces of his body had been jarred loose by the frat boys and hurriedly cobbled them together.
The big man could now feel his legs, his spine had started working again and his face, though swollen, was roughly the same as it should be. Whereas he could have been described as meaty before, now, he felt more like a pile of meat.
He knew he had at least a couple of broken ribs and he had thought that he had been kicked in the back hard enough to not want to be kicked that hard in the back any more. Even so, he was starting to feel strong enough to try to turn around and at least lie facing upwards.
The effort was fantastic and at one point he had to settle for being half way, on his side. The uncomfortable feeling of things sloshing around in his torso, as if nothing was anchored down properly, convinced him to hurry up and get on his back.
Again, he could feel things moving around, but decided it was just a combination of his imagination, having his bell rung, and lack of sleep. The doughnuts he had that morning while taking the reconnaissance pictures outside the Collectors house probably didn’t help, either. Was that really just this morning? And now it’s the afternoon. The sun at a slight angle… When he looked up, though his swollen eyelids, the sight through the car’s window conflicted with the picture in his mind.
“Carl!” It came out as a wet slap, making Carl jump.
“Jesus! Scared the shit out of me.”
“Where do you think you are going?”
“I thought you were dead.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to base. I thought I was going to be dumping your fucking body in the swamp!”
“I told you to turn around and find a place to get a coke.”
“Which would have been odd last words, for sure.”
Mr. Aye ignored all pain and pulled himself to a sitting position. Outside he found that they were driving out in the campus’s agriculture plots, near the hospital and almost completely off campus. He reached back and hit Carl hard in the ear with his open right hand.
The desk stared back at Clive Brace. His report was done. He’d gone before the reporters and delivered his findings. He came back and had been collating what little information he’d gotten out of the investigation. His mind reeled from the whiplash of it all. Blank. Nothing stuck. Things just didn’t fall together.
“Go home, Slick.”
Brace lifted his head to see Commissioner Painter standing at his desk, baseball hat on and briefcase in hand. At least he’d changed out of his jogging shorts. The words carried the weight of an order and came from someone who was more than comfortable giving them.
“Yeah. I will. I’ve got some things to finish up here.”
“No you don’t. Clive, you’ve been on since six. You did fine work today and we’re done. Put a bow on it and kill it under a pint or two.”
Clive smirked. “Don’t drink, sir.”
“What? Why the hell not? Religion?”
He shrugged and sat back in his chair. “Never took to it. And yeah, I know… but I just didn’t.”
“So what do you do to relax?”
Painter gave him a sideways glance and shrugged. “Do that then. This place isn’t like Miami, Slick. We don’t live the job here and we don’t let the cases camp out in the head space, especially when they are done. I only got three detectives, Brace. I can’t have you wearing yourself out chasing ghosts or burning my budget on overtime.”
The chair under Detective Brace seemed to sink a little as he looked at his boss. The thing that bothered him came into horrible focus. In his mind, a replay of a conversation he’d had in a Miami break room came up, the one that led to the Inspector General’s investigation and his transfer.
He made a conscious effort to keep his blank expression as he probed Painter’s eyes. “You know, we may just get some leads from that press conference. Brine gave me a bunch of shit for even mentioning the tip line number.”
“Yeah, well Brine is right. People are scared, scared people jump at their own shadows and call us to bring them a flashlight and hold their hand. Still, knowing the Sargent, he was probably a dick about it.” Clive knew a smirk was expected, so he smirked, his poker face gliding over his suspicions. “So don’t worry about it. Penington is detective on duty now.”
“I just want to clean my desk off before I leave. Put a bow on it, as you say.”
“Good. I’ll see you on Monday, slick.”
“Yeah. Have a good day sir.”
The old coffee was stale and shook as Clive brought it to his lips. Bitterness slapped him as he hoped it would and his hand was steady resting the mug back on the desk.
Code fifty three fourteen. Clive knew it well. He knew that a detective could not be forced to leave a case within two days or if there were active leads without proper hand off. An anti-corruption clause from the days of the old south. Penington would close the case on orders the minute he clocked out. Clive was certain of it.
He was on the clock. Time to get going.
The Car skidded to a stop, stuttering and smoking. It drifted off to the right and came to rest rubbing a curb.
Carl got out of the car in a panic, not completely understanding what had just happened. His hand was up to his ear and when he looked at it, he saw the blood, his blood, coming out. Two more steps and vertigo forced him to one knee.
Behind him, a door opened. Mr. Aye swiveled out in a single motion and reared up to his full height and girth. He looked like he has been hit by several cars, but none of this surface damage was evident in his stance or his gait as he walked over to a now cowering Carl.
Mr. Aye’s shadow fell across the driver. “I said East, fucker.” The voice was low, loud and crackled with blood. “We are on the hunt, man. You don’t give up on a hot lead because of a little boo boo. What the fuck is the matter with you.”
“You were dead. I saw you. You weren’t breathing.”
“Don’t care. You follow my orders. If you do anything else against my orders,” He bent down to get right into Carl’s face. “You won’t like it.”
Carl got his nerve back. “I don’t fucking like it now. Why can’t you drive yourself, you big asshole?”
The skinny man braced for another blow, but Mr. Aye backed off a bit. “There are things I will need for you to do for me, like drive, like go into places I can’t go looking like this. I’ve been spotted by our prey, you have not. We will require more cunning and stealth at this juncture.”
“Hah!” Carl said “Big man needs me!”
“I didn’t say I needed you, just someone who isn’t me. Your importance is defined by me now.” He turned around and opened the door to the back seat. “Let that sink in.”
Carl got to his feet and swerved back to the car. “Sink this, mother fucker!” he mumbled. “We get done, we’re going to resume this little trip to the swamp and you get to meet my friends for dinner.” He opened the driver’s side door with more force than was necessary and flung himself behind the wheel.
“So, we’re going to go get a coke.”
Mr. Aye nodded, looking around the back seat. “Yes, and hopefully, a smile.”
Joy followed Sarah up the hallway to the bathroom, but raised an eyebrow as she took a turn and headed through the exit door instead. Beyond the door, lay a cinder block hallway lined with emergency lights.
“So, what’s on your mind?” Joy said. “And what’s with all the cloak and dagger?”
Sarah whirled, her black and purple hair umbrella-ing out in recognition of centrifugal force. “The thing is, I’m pretty sure I’m going crazy, so hang with me.”
“Oooooh, Kaaaaayyyy” Her eyes grew wide. “So what. What’s up?”
“Have you been having thoughts that seem a little off. Maybe like they aren’t yours or don’t have anything to do with what you are currently doing?”
“Maybe a little. I kept on thinking about how the apartment needs tidying up, getting a coffee. But honestly this day…”
“Well, let me tell you about the thoughts I’ve been having. I’ve been thinking about going and visiting a bombed out building with some freshman girl I’ve never met before. Picking up a ball shaped thinger… Oh yeah, getting wasted first thing in the morning before that. Going and reading some absolutely horrendous stories. I’ve even got a list and a synopsis I wrote down as proof. Then I wrap it up by coming here. Sound familiar?”
“So what are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying that ever since the bomb blast thing this morning I’ve been… um…” She closed her mouth and said into Joy’s mind ‘… hearing your insipid internal dialog.’
“Yeah. I’ve been trying to get you to shut up too, but apparently you haven’t been getting the hint.”
Together they sighed and said “This is not cool.”
“You know, if you try, you can shut it out a little,” Sarah said. “I have tried focusing on what I’m doing and that pushed the impression of what you are doing into the background.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want you looking over my shoulder at all. But why is this happening?”
“You tell me. It’s your boyfriend that goes into burning buildings and the like.”
Joy opened her mouth, breathed in as if to speak, but then shook her head.
“Yeah, it is like something out of a stupid comic book.”
Rounding on Sarah, Joy snapped. “Hey! Stop reading my mind.”
“I wish I could, but you are leaving it too open for me. Keep your damned thoughts to yourself.”
Joy looked at her twin. “Nice hair. Did you somehow do this?”
“No. Goes with the territory I guess.”
They both asked each other. “Read anyone else’s mind?”
“Guess not,” They both said, dropping their chins in identical movements.
“So what do we tell and to whom?” Joy asked.
“Well Teague won’t like it.”
“No shit. Teague doesn’t do weird.”
Sarah scowled. “I was referring to how attached he is to me and his general love of privacy. This is going to be threatening to him.”
“And don’t forget weird. Ok, fine. But I think we tell Goldberg.”
Joy turned back toward the main part of the bar but stayed in the hall. “Well, two reasons, First he’s got his own thing going on with that whole ‘Lucky as hell’ act he’s working on.”
“And the other?”
Joy looked over her shoulder and said, “He’ll figure it out anyway and may already know. Come on. Time to rejoin the party. We’ll catch up tonight if not… you know… sooner.”
[Author’s note: This section was quite short for me so I didn’t feel good about having everyone wait a whole week for it. I’m also testing the ability of WordPress to schedule releases so I can build up a buffer and get more consistent with the updates. I figured this would be a good dry run.
Again, votes on Top Web Fiction are hugely useful for helping spread the word about the story. Likes and comments in wordpress are also very helpful within the population of wordpressers. I always feel a bit needy asking for word of mouth, but nothing happens without a request, eh?
So I hope you enjoyed our little interlude here. I’ll be back next wednesday with more, if not sooner.