Danse Macabre: Sixteen – Don’t Fear The Reaper

Alone With The Dead
Danse Macabre
by Andrea Speed

Sixteen – Don’t Fear The Reaper

dm1.jpgGryphon enjoyed a dreamless, untroubled sleep, the kind the dead might enjoy if they actually slept. (Presumably his passengers did, but they didn’t count.)

The phone eventually woke him up, but as he groped for it he was dimly aware this was ring five or six. Using all that psychokinetic energy really wiped him out. “ ‘lo?” he mumbled into the receiver, eyes still firmly closed.

“Wow Gryphon, you’re still sleeping?” Varner said. “Late night last night?”

He rolled over and opened his eyes, looking at the clock. Was it really one in the afternoon? Well, it wasn’t one in the morning. “Sort of. Didn’t really sleep well.”

“Ah.” Varner said it in a strangely suspicious way. Amazing how much suspicion you could pack in one syllable. “We found our guy.”

“The killer? Who is it?”

“His name was Harold Cook. He was a real estate agent, which explains his access to the building. Also he used to work in his Uncle’s butcher shop as a teenager, which would explain his proficiency at cutting up bodies.”

“You keep using the word was. Has he skipped town or something?”

There was a long silence, during which Mr. Aronofsky said, You’ve gotten way too adept at lying.

Varner sighed before saying, “He’s dead. Apparently he killed himself at the crime scene.”

“Wow. That’s weird. I didn’t think serial killers were the type who committed suicide.”

“Generally they’re not. They have no qualms about hurting others but want to preserve themselves at all costs. There’s another oddity as well.”

“Oh?”

“We only found his prints at the scene, on the gun, but there was no powder residue on his hands.”

Damn, he forgot about that. “Huh. That is weird.”

“Isn’t it?” he paused again, as if waiting for Gryphon to fill the void. But he didn’t, so he was forced to pick up the slack. “Look, Gryph, you had nothing to do with this, right? You or your … passengers.”

He snorted in disbelief. “My passengers aren’t known for using guns, and neither am I.” It wasn’t a lie – they weren’t known for it. Didn’t mean they hadn’t done it in this instance, though.

You’re more like a lawyer every day, Mr. Aronofsky complained.

Ouch, Hugh said. That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?

Varner seemed to concede that with a noise that was half-grunt, half-sigh. “Don’t blame me for grasping at straws. This case just wrapped up really neatly, and cases never wrap up neatly, not when they involve so many deaths.”

“I can imagine.”

“Speaking of which, I guess you’re responsible for my interesting visitor this morning.”

He sat up, rubbing his eyes, wondering if he could put him on hold and go pee. Did this phone even have a hold function? “Oh? You’re not seeing dead people, are you?”

“Only in a manner of speaking. O’Leary came into my office this morning and told me what really happened during the raid. I should reopen the case, but I don’t know if I will. It will be ugly, and nothing will be achieved. It was an accident, and Cal’s already retired out of the force. But goddamn it, all those men on the task force deliberately lied and obstructed the investigation.”

“Jeff just wanted the truth known. What you do with it is ultimately up to you.”

“Not all the angry dead want revenge, huh?”

“Not really. It depends on the person.” Was he fishing, trying to pick up a hint, a clue to his involvement with Cook? Gryphon wasn’t about to give it to him.

After a moment, he heard the creak of a chair, and the sound of papers being shuffled on a desk. “I should say I got an okay for you to work as a consultant for us on a provisional basis.”

“Great. I guess I can get started after we get back from California.”

“Oh, you doing that murder house thing?”

“Yeah. It’s a good chunk of change, and it’ll get the guys some publicity, which ultimately pays the bills.” He figured he’d massively dose himself with Nyquil before getting on the plane. It would damp down the electrical activity and his passengers, although he told Clay to wake him if the plane got in serious trouble or a drunken businessman started to go Al Qaeda on everyone. Maybe he couldn’t help, but he sure couldn’t hurt at that point.

“But you don’t want it for yourself?”

“Fuck no. I deal with enough fucknuts already.”

Gee, thanks, Hugh said.

“Good luck with that.”

“Thanks. You too.” He hung up and shuffled off to the bathroom, still yawning.

He really didn’t like anyone talking to him when he peed, but since when did Ruby give a damn about propriety? It wasn’t her forte. Kid, he’s suspicious. You know he is.

“Yeah, well, suspicion and a quarter leaves him with a quarter. He can’t prove shit.”

Not this time. But if you work with the cops he’s gonna be constantly hangin’ over your shoulder, whether you realize it or not. We won’t be able to do what we usually do what we do.

He washed his hands in the sink, and didn’t risk a look at himself in the mirror. He wasn’t sure he wanted to look at himself right now. “That depends on what we tell him, doesn’t it?”

This is all so very disturbing, Mr. Aronofsky complained.

Maybe it was, but Gryphon figured if he was going to do this, he was going to do this his way. And having the cops in his line of sight was preferable to looking over his shoulder for them.

He dried his hands and went downstairs to find the house empty. Clay was probably back at work today, putting in some time before they had to take off for Los Angeles. Gryphon was too tired to throw something together, so he found a microwavable dinner in the freezer and nuked it, nursing a soda instead of making coffee. It was all caffeine.

He ate mechanically while rain pattered against the kitchen window like skeletal fingers tapping to be let in, and in the near perfect quiet, he realized he felt perfectly hollow, a Trojan horse of a human being. What was going to happen when he died? He assumed at some point the would have to die, but when? And what happened then? Although he occasionally tried, he still didn’t believe in an afterlife. Maybe, in his case, that was better.

He’d finished eating the frozen dinner that was somewhat bizarrely almost unidentifiable by taste, and found himself fighting back heavy yawns. He’d decided to go back to bed and just sleep until he was forced to get up for fear of bed sores when the phone in the front room rang. He wasn’t going to answer it, as he’d felt he’d talked to enough people today, but he had a nagging feeling he should pick it up. So he did, bracing for the worst.

“Oh, hey Gryphon, I didn’t realize you were there.” It was Kevin Holloway, one half of the lawyer couple that had owned the property where most of the Stanhope family was buried. The pair had actually kept in touch, why he wasn’t sure, except they knew something inexplicable when they saw it, and decided to keep it in reserve, in case they ever needed it again. Kevin was the one who hired Spirit Guides in the first place, as he believed their house was haunted more than his wife, who thought he was an idiot. He turned out to be right, but Gryphon wasn’t under the impression that the hard charging Rachel Davies ever conceded the point.

“Yeah. Clay isn’t, though. Can I take a message?”

“Actually, you’re the one I wanted to talk to. Do you remember that I was having one of the P.I.s contracted by the firm looking into finding Beatrice Broslowski Aronofsky for you?”

“Oh right.” Beatrice was Mr. Aronofsky’s wife, who seemed to slip off the edge of the world after her unmarried sister Edith won the lottery and moved to Florida. Bea was presumably with her, but they’d been unable to find either. “They found her?”

“Yes, she did.” Kevin paused awkwardly, cleared his throat. “There’s no good way to say this, so I‘m just going to say it. I’m sorry, but she died two years ago. She passed away in a care center in Ocala, heart failure. She’s buried in a Jewish cemetery outside Miami. I’m so sorry.”

“Oh shit.” He sat down heavily on the arm of the couch, as it was closest.

Poor Bea, Mr. Aronofsky said sadly. I was afraid of that, you know.

“Would you like the name and address of the cemetery?”

He rubbed his eyes, which felt like they were filled with sand. “Can you email me?”

“Sure. You gonna be okay?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine. It’s Mr. Aronofsky I’m worried about.”

I’m fine, he protested weakly.

As soon as he got off the phone with Kevin, he sunk down on the sofa and asked, “What do you want to do?” Gryphon was basically asking if he wanted to leave or not. After all, all Mr. Aronofsky wanted was to find his wife. Now he had.

Gryphon didn’t want him to go. He was like the grandfather he never had, and was a rare voice of moderation, although his was the path very rarely taken. Yet it wasn’t fair to ask him to stay if he was done and wanted to go.

I don’t know, he admitted.

So Gryphon just sat there, watching the rain sluice down the window, and waited for him to make up his mind.

The End

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