Danse Macabre: Twelve – Killing In The Name Of
Alone With The Dead
by Andrea Speed
Twelve – Killing In the Name Of
“What do you mean prepare to be disappointed?” O’Leary repeated, parking the SUV parallel to the mouth of the overgrown gravel driveway.
Gryphon looked back to see Wax just standing there between the raindrops, like he was waiting for a bus. It made him briefly wonder if a bus of the dead would be any worse than a standard transit bus during rush hour. Probably not. It might actually be more peaceful and smell better. “He’s dead, Cal.”
O’Leary glared at him, like he thought he was just saying that to piss him off. “What? No he isn’t.”
“I assure you, he is.” Gryphon didn’t stick around to argue with him – he simply got out of the big, giant vehicle, vertigo briefly hitting him in his climb down to the ground, and walked over to the ghostly Wax, rain instantly drenching him like he’d just stepped under a cold shower. “What happened to you, Clifford?”
The ghost finally moved, as if seeing him for the first time. That was probably true. “Who are you?”
“Gryphon. I seem to speak for you people.”
He blinked his eyes owlishly, as if the term “dead” was still new to him. He still seemed to exist between the raindrops in spite of his paunch. “It wasn’t fair.”
“It never is.”
“He was … I haven’t done anything wrong. Lately.” He gestured in a vague way, like he was scrabbling for a fingerhold on an invisible rock face. “I’ve been alone. I haven’t -”
“Excuses are for the living, Cliff,” Gryphon sighed irritably. He knew simply from being this close to him that he wasn’t nearly a good man; he’d led a pretty selfish and mean life. Of course he did, if he liked molesting little girls. Gryphon just wanted to get this over with so he could move on to something more productive. “What happened?”
Wax gave him a wounded look, but Gryphon ignored it in an almost hostile way, enough so Wax could see it through the prism of his own narcissism. “I hired this guy to come in and fill this old well on the property. It dried up a long time ago; it’s just a big hole going twenty feet down. I found a raccoon in it once. It was just a safety hazard, and I knew if some dumb shit trespassed and fell into it I could be sued. So I hired this guy to fill it in.”
“And … I guess he recognized me? Said he saw me on a web site. Did you know some fuckhead out there has a web site full of so called sex offenders? I mean, Jesus Christ, I’m not a sex offender. These idiots act like younger girls can’t be sexual, like they don’t -”
“Shut the fuck up and tell me what happened to you,” Gryphon snapped, feeling the pressure of Ruby inside his head. She wanted to kill him. She didn’t know if she could actually kill a fellow ghost, but she desperately wanted to try.
Wax gave him that wounded look again, but now it had a hard edge. Gryphon was pretty sure he didn’t feel things like “normal” people – he probably didn’t feel at all. He was one of those emotionally empty people that you seemed to see around more and more these days. He had no idea why, but Gryphon knew it was true. Emotional death was growing frighteningly common. “Fine. That fucking asshole came over one day with a buddy to help him with the backhoe, and while he was in my kitchen, getting payment for the job from me, the fucker hit me over the head with something. It didn’t knock me out, just stunned me. Then they used plastic ties to bind my hands, and shoved a dirty bandana in my mouth to keep me from screaming. Then they dragged me out, dropped me in the well … and filled it in.”
“Buried you alive.” That was pretty horrible, he shuddered at the thought, but Ruby seemed to think it was only what he deserved.
“Do you know what it’s like to breathe in dirt?”
“Actually, yes.” Thanks to all his passengers and the various ghosts he encountered over the years, he knew second hand – although it felt like first hand – of all the grotesque ways to die. “How long have you been dead?”
He stared at him like he was the biggest idiot he had ever encountered. “How the fuck am I supposed to know?”
Good point. Gryphon decided randomly on the figure of three weeks, although he had no idea why. He decided that he should get to what he was here for. “Do you know what happened to Juliet Saltzman?”
He snorted in disbelief and shook his head. “That bitch again. God, she was too fucking old for me.”
“I notice that wasn’t an answer.”
“I don’t know where the fuck she is. But I think I’ve seen her on Lonely Girls, under the alias Caramel. She just ditched, y’know? Got outta this fuckin’ town. She was smart.”
It’s a website, Sylvio said.
Is there something you’d like to share with us? Hugh wondered.
Fuck off, Sylvio said defensively. My roommate was the king of porn and wannabe porn. I don’t know how he paid for it all.
Gryphon distantly heard a sharp whistle behind him, surely O’Leary in the other world, but it wasn’t quite enough to break the connection. “Nobody knows I’m dead?” Wax asked, looking vaguely distraught. “Nobody even noticed that I was missing?”
“Apparently not. Not even the cop who wants you behind bars worse than anything.”
“That son of a bitch. Tell him he can go fuck hims-”
O’Leary shook his shoulder, and Gryphon jolted as the connection snapped, and he shrugged him off reflexively, taking a couple of steps away into the weed choked lawn, which was now starting to flood due to the intensity of the rain. The ground was completely saturated and could hold no more water. “Would you stop doing that?” Gryphon snapped at him, trying to get his reeling head under control. Sometimes reality shifting was harder than at other times.
“What? You’ve been standing in the rain for five fucking minutes!”
The full sense of his body came back to him, soaked to the bone and cold, and he shuddered convulsively as the wind briefly gusted, the chill cutting into him like a razor blade. He wrapped his arms around himself to try and keep warm, but all he did was squish water out of his sleeves. “Wax was killed by two men, a handyman he hired, Axel Beech, and a friend of his he only introduced as Sean. They dumped him in the old well he hired them to fill in, and only then did they fill it in. He’s buried in the back acre of the property. I can find his body if you want to call it in.”
O’Leary studied him, raindrops suspended in his eyelashes, and it seemed to take him a full minute to process the information. “You’re not shitting me? He’s dead? Why the fuck these guys kill him?”
“They saw him on a website of registered sex offenders. I guess they decided to play vigilante.”
O’Leary shrugged. “Can’t blame ‘em, I guess. A pervert piece of shit like Wax. Did you ask him what he did with Juliet’s body?”
“He had nothing to do with her disappearance.”
“He couldn’t lie to me. I’d know if he was, and I’d know if he had the death surrounding him. He didn’t. He said he thought he saw her recently on a website called Lonely Girls, using the alias Caramel.”
The ex-cop scoffed. “So now he’s maligning her name? That sick fucker.”
“He had nothing to do with her.”
O’Leary turned and started slogging back towards his SUV. “Now that he’s dead, I guess we can tear this place up looking for corpses. Ain’t like he can complain.”
Gryphon felt soppy and miserable. He had about an inch of water in his boots and his teeth were starting to chatter; his skin felt clammy and his chest was starting to ache, while his breathing suddenly felt strained. He had a sudden panicky flash to what it must have been like to drown, which was his most feared way to die: to drown. He’d always been terrified of drowning – he never learned how to swim because that much water just terrified him. He had no idea why then or now that that had to be his worse fear, and now it seemed extra funny since he’d died a thousand ways, many probably more horrible than drowning, and yet the fear remained, a rock solid reminder of his own sense of self. He was always a quiet geek, afraid of his own shadow, and now he dealt in nothing but death. Was that karma, or just the universe’s idea of a big fat joke?
O’Leary opened the driver’s side door, and Gryphon said, “Hugh, help me.”
The door ripped itself out of O’Leary’s hand and slammed shut, so hard that the monster vehicle rocked on its shocks and he swore he heard the driver’s side window crack. O’Leary turned back to him, bug eyed, as the SUV’s windows rippled like the water running down them. “What the fuck ..? Did you do that?”
“Who else could?” Gryphon wondered. The energy crackling around him made him feel a bit warmer. “I will not be dismissed. Helping you was my mistake, but I will not be ignored the moment I give you news you don’t want. I’m in charge here, not you. Do you understand me?”
O’Leary stared at him, goggle eyed, and his right hand was clenching and unclenching beside his hip. “Do you still carry a piece?” Gryphon asked. “I wouldn’t go for it. You’ll just make them mad.”
That made him freeze, stop his unconscious grab for a weapon. “Who?”
“My passengers. Do we have to go over this again? I’m not alone; I’m never alone. And you will never get all of us.”
Dial this back, Mr. Aronofsky warned. He’s not our enemy.
Sure he is, Ruby said casually.
Scaring cops is so much fucking fun, Hugh said, sounding almost giddy.
The SUV was now making an odd creaking noise, loud enough that even O’Leary broke his paralysis long enough to look back. “What the fuck are you doing to my car?”
“It’s not a car, it’s a monstrosity,” he said, although he muttered under his breath, “Enough, Hugh, I’m sure he’s got the point.”
Just let me see if I can lift it.
Didn’t you hear him? Mr. Aronofsky barked. He so rarely raised his voice it was still startling to all of them. Stop it now.
Jeeze, all right. No need to get so pissy.
The car settled and stopped making that noise, but there was another sound soon after, like ice cracking during a spring thaw, and Gryphon saw little furrows in the glass on the passenger side. One good push and it would probably shatter all over the seat. If that was the worst the SUV got out of this, it was very lucky. “Jesus fuck,” O’Leary sighed, running a hand through his wet hair, knocking his own hood back. He probably didn’t give a shit at the moment.
“You knew I was a freak when you heard about what happened in the interrogation room,” Gryphon said. “You can’t pretend to be shocked now.”
“Why do you keep hurting my fucking cars? What did they ever do to you?”
“They have electronics and glass. Both of them are rather fragile around me.”
He scoffed, putting his hood back up, but otherwise looking everywhere but at him. “You? Don’t you mean us?”
“Do you really want to start this, Cal?”
“Since when did I give you permission to call me Cal?”
“The moment you called me Gryph.”
He grunted, annoyed, and turned back to the SUV. “Can I check and see if this still runs or not?”
“Be my guest.”
As soon as he opened the door and started checking to see if anything worked, Gryphon was aware of Jeff McCandless standing beside him. “Aren’t you going to ask him?” he wondered. It was slightly bitter, but mostly weary.
He kind of didn’t want to, mainly because he could imagine the fallout, but he supposed now was the time. O’Leary was probably as scared of him as he was ever going to get. Gryphon waited until he pulled himself out of the cockpit, frowning. “I smell burned insulation in there.”
“You’re lucky Hugh didn’t pick it up and throw it.” He paused briefly, but only long enough for him to realize he was changing the subject. “Are you going to tell me the truth about Jeff McCandless now?”
O’Leary turned back suddenly, like he’d just jabbed him in the ass with a taser, and he paled so dramatically he was afraid he might barf. “Wh – why do you bring that up?”
“I know what you did, Cal, I think it would be best if you said it, for your conscience if nothing else.”
He started shaking his head, but after a moment looked at the weedy, wet lawn, the water starting to puddle and pool around their feet. The way the grass was weighed down and swirled with the water, it almost looked like they were standing in a shallow pond. “It wasn’t … there’s no need to -”
“Jeff seems to think there is a need. He won’t stop haunting you until you tell the truth.”
O’Leary’s eyes had an odd paleness to them, like he was looking into the future at his own hideous demise. He was still shaking his head, but faintly; you could basically only see it in the minor wiggle of his nascent jowls. “I can’t. It’s not …”
“You have to, or we don’t leave.”
He still didn’t want to look at him. He looked around him, at the slowly collapsing house which seemed to radiate the emptiness of death, and O’Leary decided looking down at the lawn pond they were standing in was the best option. Gryphon found himself looking at his bright yellow hood, where the raindrops beaded and ran down its shiny surface like it was coated with wax.
“I – I was a replacement, last minute, for another officer who was hurt in a car accident. I didn’t know. I didn’t -” his voice choked on a syllable, and only then did Gryphon realize he was actually struggling not to cry. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. It should have been better contained.”
Jeff grunted. “This is pathetic.”
“I’ve heard enough excuses today,” Gryphon said sharply. “Get to the point, Cal.”
With a cough and a wheeze, like an old man who was trying to pull himself out of bed on a winter morning, he finally choked out, “I’m sorry. I killed him. I killed Jeff McCandless.”