Danse Macabre: Ten – Misfits and Mistakes
Alone With The Dead
by Andrea Speed
Ten – Misfits and Mistakes
“He has a key,” Gryphon repeated, for Varner’s edification. “To the padlock.”
Varner gave him a suspicious look. “That’s not just a guess, is it?”
“Hey, not bad for a cop,” the ghost said. “Think he can spell his own name too?”
Good one, Ray said.
Gryphon sighed, and Varner looked over his shoulder, following his gaze, trying to see what he saw. He couldn’t, of course. “No. there’s another victim here, Anna Alvarez. She doesn’t think much of our investigational skills.”
“Hey, you’re okay,” Anna said. “It’s the fucking cops that should have found this place three victims ago. What the fuck do we pay taxes for?” She paused briefly. “Okay, not me personally, but other people.”
Varner scanned the darkness, like Anna wasn’t standing a mere three feet from him, the blood in the hole in her forehead glimmering like sunlight on the surface of a stagnant pond. But she wasn’t there, not as far as Varner was concerned. After a moment, he turned back to him, and asked, “What can she tell us about him?”
Gryphon didn’t even ask, just looked at Anna and waited. The ghost shrugged and threw her hands in the air. “Fuck if I know, I was totally wasted when he did me.”
“Can I see?” he asked, knowing he’d regret it.
Kid, no, Hugh insisted. We can find him some other way. She was shot in the head – there’s probably no memories worth anything anyways.
She looked at him like he was insane. “What d’ya mean can you see? What the fuck is that? You gonna crack open my head and look in?”
“It’s just a process,” Gryphon told her. He noticed Varner staring at him out of the corner of his eye, but he didn’t interrupt. “I don’t know how it works -”
And as if talking about it was the trigger, he suddenly got it – it flooded into his mind in a series of jagged images as sharp as glass and sensations that were so disorienting that he felt like he was suddenly on the deck of a sinking ship in a raging sea. Reality slid sideways and suddenly everything was too bright and too loud, images smeared across his retinas like the landscape flying by too fast for the eye to settle on anything, fragments of things that didn’t quite make sense. A slice of white – the van? – the beige/pink/tan of a Caucasian face, darkness, a bright flash like the light of a muzzle. A sharp pain augured through his brain like a drill bit, and nausea washed over him, dragging him back to a reality that was dark and somehow less vivid than the drug addled, damaged memories. He had a taste in his mouth of vomit, blood, and something like old pennies.
“Holy shit, are you okay?” Varner asked from somewhere over his head. Gryphon retched for a moment before realizing arms were across his chest, and slowly it dawned on him that Varner was holding him up. When had he collapsed?
When the disruption in his mind had settled and he felt the confines of his body around him again – and he got the urge to barf under control – he said, “’M fine, okay? Jus’ – fuck, I hate memories where I get shot in the head.”
Gryphon tried to stand on his own power, failed, and then tried again, Varner still holding him the whole time. The second time he succeeded, but the cop seemed reluctant to let go. “I’m okay, I’ll be okay, I just … can someone help me sort through those images?”
“I’m talking to my passengers.”
I saw shit, Ray said. What the fuck was that?
He offered her twenty five dollars for a blow job, and she figured she needed the money for a fix, Julie, of all people, said. While she was doing that in his van, he pulled out a gun and shot her, although she didn’t know he had a gun until the barrel was against her forehead.
Gryphon was honestly shocked on two fronts. Julie actually speaking, which was so rare he was always surprised she was still with him. But then there was the shocking fact that she actually saw a coherent narrative in all that mess. “You saw all that?”
It goes by fast, but it was there, she said. I don’t know why I could see it. Maybe because of how I died.
How would being beaten to death by a hammer allow her to see it better than the rest of them? Maybe it was the head injury connection, or perhaps the shocking amount of betrayal and needless brutality in the violence. “I’m okay, Jason, really,” Gryphon said, standing on his own. He wavered a moment, but he managed to stay vertical. “Holy fuck, I think we need a sketch artist. Julie, did you catch his face?”
I think so. She must have thought about it, because suddenly an image popped into his head, of a shadowy man who was so nondescript it was almost painful. Except for the look in his eye – it was remarkably cold, disdainful, and dead. It was the type of look that, if you saw it on an armed person, would make you wet your pants. You’d know you were doomed.
Varner was looking at him quizzically. “Is there another ghost here?”
“Julie’s one of my passengers. And yeah, I know what this fucker looks like. I need a sketch artist.”
His eyebrows raised slightly, concern etching lines into his otherwise smooth face. Suddenly he looked a bit closer to his genuine age. “Are you sure you don’t need a hospital? That was a quite an episode you had.”
“It wasn’t an episode,” he replied scornfully. But what the hell was it? It wasn’t like he could remember. “It was just somebody else’s memory.”
“Of getting shot in the head.”
He shook his head. “That’s some gift you’ve got.”
He wanted to point out that it was no gift at all, but he obviously knew that.
Varner wanted to get a search warrant for the Packer’s building anyways, so Gryphon rode along with him back to the station, where the cops on duty who recognized him seemed genuinely surprised to see him. As police station’s went this one was pretty modern, echoing the usual rectangular shape but with a lot more glass and exposed steel than he was used to seeing in a cop shop, the interior bright white and full of utilitarian furniture, the air heavily conditioned and redolent of coffee and copier toner. It could have been an office, only with employees wearing polyester uniforms and carrying guns. Which was a scary sounding office, come to think of it.
Varner went right on back to his office – and you knew you were important if you had your own office – but on the way there they were intercepted by the biggest damn cop Gryphon had ever seen. He was maybe six foot six and well over two hundred pounds, although actually quite lean, athletically built. He was a fairly young light skinned black man with a rather severe buzz cut, like maybe two months ago he shaved his own head and thought better of it, and it was very slowly growing back. “Jase, something up?” he asked, giving Gryphon a suspicious look.
“Yeah, I need to get a search warrant, and someone with an identikit. Is Rochelle still here?”
The cop – who seemed to be named Glass – glanced towards the back, but it may just have been something to do while he was trying to remember. “I’m not sure. I’ll go check.”
“If she’s not, just tell Dihn he’s doing it.”
He followed Varner into his tiny office, which seemed to echo the interior of the rest of the place. Only there was a very old filing cabinet tucked into the far corner, and listing piles of papers beside an older model Dell desktop, which made it seem if not exactly homey at least a bit less cold. He sat in a stiff plastic chair as Varner sat in his more cushioned office chair and picked up the phone, calling the judge – or whoever; it was a judge, right? – for a warrant.
Gryphon quietly offered to let Julie take over and describe their guy, but she didn’t want to; she was content to let him be her voice. Which was typical really – Julie preferred other people speaking for her, perhaps because if there was a beating meted out for it, it’d be that person who suffered and not her. He couldn’t blame her really.
Rochelle must not have been here, as the person who came in with the identikit was a somewhat grumpy Vietnamese cop who complained that this wasn’t really part of his job, but Varner ignored him like he was used to this kind of thing. Eventually the picture they put together was of an oval faced man with thinning light brown hair that made his forehead look broader, and a Roman nose with a bump in the bridge, suggesting it had been broken eons ago. His eyes weren’t small more than they simply lacked a certain expressiveness that made them look like they were sinking into the wide expanse of his face. He wasn’t ugly nor good looking, striking or awful – he was just ordinary. He was the poster boy for the guy you saw twenty times every day and never really noticed. As soon as they were done, Dihn clicked his tongue, and said, “This guy is gonna be impossible to single out.”
“Not necessarily,” Varner said, glancing at him in a rather knowing way. Gryphon knew he meant he could find him simply by following the ghosts.
The story Varner told was that he (Gryphon) had seen this guy in the area after hearing a noise that sounded like a gunshot – it was sort of true, and yet mostly not. Gryphon was kind of amazed that a cop was lying his ass off to other cops right in front of him, but Hugh said, They’re people like everyone else. They lie. We firefighters do that too. Everybody lies. Sometimes professionally.
I was wondering when somebody was going to bring politicians into this, Mr. Aronofsky said.
Varner got his search warrant within two hours, and as they left the police station, he told Gryphon he wanted him to be on the scene, but clearly he couldn’t be inside while they were going over the place. He asked him to remain outside and let him know if any other ghosts popped up or relayed any helpful information.
Fuck him! Ray exclaimed. We’re doin’ his work for him! Demand some scratch before you tell him one more fuckin’ thing.
But what ended up happening was Gryphon dozed in the backseat of a patrol car while the cops and the forensic teams went over the store. From the sudden flurry of activity, the uniformed people boiling out of the broken open door like ants from a disturbed hill, the killer hadn’t cleaned up as well as he thought he had. Gryphon didn’t think he’d actually sleep, but he dosed for a while, woken up once to find someone sitting in the back seat with him. It was Anna, the hole in her forehead still glistening wetly, dark blood dripping down her chin and hitting the seat with a soft plop. “You know why it took so long for anyone to notice? ‘Cause you can kill all the whores you like and no one cares.”
“They weren’t all whores,” he replied sleepily, rubbing his eyes, wondering when talking to people with grotesque head injuries had become normal.
“Naw, I guess not. Some of ‘em were just junkies, or stupid little girls who didn’t take to heart advice about taking rides with strangers. Either way, it was kinda amazing how he picked ones that he knew wouldn’t be missed very much. They were mainly white girls! Don’t missing white girls get all the media attention?”
“Being rich or at least fairly well off helps a lot. I don’t think anyone thinks much about the poor ones. If you’re poor, shit happens to you. It’s just not supposed to happen to the better off.” Wow, when had he gotten so cynical? Oh, right, when talking to dead people with head injuries became normal.
“Yeah, prob’ly.” She turned and looked out the passenger window at all the cop cars and some kind of forensics van, where the bulk of the activity was happening. “I wonder if they found my finger.”
“He chopped off your fingers?”
“No. But he was experimenting with a new chopping technique to make shorter work of the dismembering process, and he partially severed one of my fingers. While he was working on the rest of the body, a rat came along and chewed off the rest. He hates rats and he killed it, but he never noticed the missing finger.”
This may well be the most disgusting story I’ve ever heard, Sylvio said.
“Do you wanna kill him?”
Anna looked back at him, pondering her options. “I dunno. I want him to suffer. Can we nail him to a wall so it takes him three days to die?”
“That might be difficult. We’d need a really secluded place.”
Don’t even joke, Mr. Aronofsky scolded.
She sat back against the seat, and he could see a bit of the exit wound in the back of her skull. She had bloody clots of brain matter like raw meat in her blood stiffened hair, little white bits of skull sprinkled about like casually tossed confetti. “What do ya think they’ll do to him in prison?” she wondered.
Gryphon shrugged, as Ray said, I think serial killers are in one of two categories: if prisoners think they’re just mad dog crazy or bad ass, they avoid ‘em. Otherwise, they’re priority targets. Hurting or killing a serial killer will give you instant rep. That‘s why a lot of them are held in special custody.
“I’ll probably have to ask Varner, but I don’t know if he’d tell me.”
“He likes you. The cop.”
Gryphon shrugged. “I think he wishes he could see you and talk to you. It’d make his job infinitely easier.”
He looked out the windows at some of the cops talking, too far away for him to decently hear, while Anna shifted in her seat, a wet noise thanks to all the blood, and asked, “Why I haven’t I joined your crew? What’s that about?”
“I think you only wanted to impart a message. Or something. Really, I have no idea how this fucking thing works, what tips a ghost over into my realm. I’m a dumbass, I’m afraid. This gig couldn’t have gone to a worse person.”
“Maybe not. Maybe if someone knew what they were doin’, it would get … I dunno … all fucked up.”
Or you’d be a power crazed fuck like Louis Stanhope, Ruby said.
“But that works out best for all of you, not necessarily me.”
Well, there’s other benefits, right? Hugh ventured gamely. The psychokinesis is pretty neat.
“But that’s yours too. I’m always sick, always half dead.”
“At least you didn’t go all the way,” Anna said, pointing at the bullet hole in her forehead. That shut him up. It seemed petty to complain when he was still technically alive.
He looked out the window at the spinning lights of cherry and sapphire, casting lurching shadows on the scarred pavement, and suddenly felt a certain odd coldness on his leg. He looked down to see that Anna was patting his knee in a comforting manner. “What are you gonna do to him? You gonna chop him up like a deer too?”
He glanced at her sharply. “Like a deer?” It took him a moment, but he got there. “Holy shit, he’s a hunter? That makes sense. Only now he’s changed game.”
She shrugged. “’Spose so, but there’s no sport in shooting someone point blank in the head.”
“No, there’s not. But it’s probably the kill that gets his rocks off, not the hunt.”
Man where do all these warped fuckers come from? Ruby wondered irritably. Is there a place in Texas just churning these shit suckers out?
Anna quirked an eyebrow at him, a tacit prompt. “So what’re you gonna do? Turn him over to the cops? Kill him?”
He shook his head and shrugged, not sure how to answer her. “I don’t know.” And he didn’t. He hadn’t decided yet how to proceed. He just assumed that he or his passengers would know when the time came, as they always seemed to. It was as mysterious as the process that allowed people to join him and left others out.
After a minute she nodded, as if that had been a fair answer. “Be careful. This fucker’s crazy.”
Undoubtedly, but he liked to think he was crazy too, so he knew the terrain. He gave her a faint smile, sorry she was dead, as she seemed like she had probably been a cool – albeit troubled – person when she was alive. “Don’t worry. All apologies to zombie films, but you can’t kill what’s already dead.”
Gryphon briefly wondered why he hadn’t had that printed up on a t-shirt yet.