Danse Macabre: Two – Waking Up With Wolves

Alone With The Dead
Danse Macabre
by Andrea Speed

Two – Waking Up With Wolves

dm3.jpg“You don’t believe in this, but you want me to find someone anyways?”

O’Leary gave him an uncomfortable glare, crossing his arms over his broad chest. “I’m completely fucking desperate, okay? Does that explain things for you?”

Gryphon shrugged, sitting back down on the edge of his bed and gesturing for O’Leary to take the chair. He shook his head, turning down the offer to sit. “It helps. So who is it you’re looking for?”

He sighed heavily, shoulders sagging. “Approximately ten years ago, a fifteen year old girl, Juliet Saltzman, disappeared while walking home from school. Her backpack was found in a ditch not far from where she was last seen. There was a convicted sex offender in the area, Clifford Wax, who was known to have a thing for underage girls, and had no alibi for the time of the crime. But we never found Juliet’s body, and we never found any evidence tying him to her or the scene. For ten years, this case has been unsolved, and for ten years we’ve been unable to touch that bastard.”

“And you think I can help somehow?”

“I want you to find Juliet Saltzman. I don’t really care if we can nail Wax or not at this point, just find her, let’s give the family some peace after all these years.”

And here’s the case that’s haunted him into retirement, Hugh said. He thinks he’s failed.

He did, Taneesha replied. He can’t even find her fucking body.

Maybe he ate her, Ray said.

What a disgusting thought, Mr. Aronofsky replied, horrified.

Well, it’d explain why they can’t find her, Ray claimed.

“I have to have some idea where to look,” Gryphon told him. “I can’t just wander around and hope to get a hit.”

O’Leary nodded, his expression one of fighting disbelief and disgust in tandem. His ego was taking quite a blow just talking to him, a cheap psychic or whatever he assumed he was.

Carrie, Hugh said unhelpfully.

“I’m willing to take you around to the abduction scene, Wax’s old place, his current place, and a place in the woods where he once molested a girl. I’m hoping maybe you can pick up something there.”

“He’s moved since the crime?”

“His mother died three years ago, and as her only surviving relative he got the house. It’s nothing special, an old A frame out in Arlen.”

Gryphon had no idea where Arlen was, but Sylvio said, It’s where they grow the white trash around here. Rural, full of trailer parks.

Ronnie Dobbs heaven,
Hugh commented cheerfully.

Who? Taneesha asked.

“I assume you’ve searched these areas and turned up nothing.”

The look he gave him was sarcastic and full of genuine menace, but he bit back whatever evil thing he was going to say. “Yeah, we did. We got search warrants, went over the areas with dogs … nothing.”

“So he dumped her elsewhere. Or he had nothing to do with this at all.”

“Oh, he had something to do with this, all right. I’d bet my left nut he’s our guy.”

“You just can’t prove it.”

“Nope. And that bastard knows it. You should have seen how smug he was when we were questioning him. He knew he was untouchable.” O’Leary’s left eyelid twitched, and a muscle jumped in his jaw as he ground his teeth. Not only did this case bother him, but he hated Wax as well.

Can’t blame him, Hugh said. I’m not sure child molesters have a huge fan club.

If I made a Michael Jackson joke, would someone hit me? Sylvio asked.

Only a lawyer, Mr. Aronofsky replied.

“Are you sure that’s all you want?” Gryphon asked him directly. “Just to bring peace to the family? Are you sure you don’t want to take some revenge on Wax?”

O’Leary’s pale eyes narrowed, nearly disappearing in the wrinkles and crow’s feet surrounding them. “Do you think I’m that petty?”

Interesting. That wasn’t actually an answer at all. “If it means anything to you – whether you believe me or not – you won’t have to worry about Wax if we find Juliet.”

“We?”

“Me and my passengers. We don’t like child killers. Leave the revenge for the dead.”

He grunted, a noise that was almost a scoff. “I don’t know how to take a statement like that.”

“That’s probably for the best.”

He studied him with a jaundiced eye, scrutinizing him like a blood sample under a microscope. “Have you ever been seen by a psychiatrist?”

Gryphon smirked. “I’m not crazy. Well, not in that way. I thought I was for a while, but too much has happened and been witnessed by others to be just my problem. How did I break everything in the interview room? How did I find the bodies of the Stanhopes and know not only their names but how exactly each had been killed? I may have some form of mental illness, but none explains any of that. And if you didn’t believe so as well, you’d never have come here.”

You’re starting to scare me kid, Hugh said. You’re starting to sound like you’re a million years old. Creepy and a million years old.

He felt a million years old, but then again, he’d died a million times, hadn’t he? And lived a million different lives, been killed a million different ways. It was hard not to age.

O’Leary kept his stare up for almost a full minute, then grunted and looked away. It made Gryphon sorry there wasn’t anything more interesting than a Far Side calendar on the wall. “I still don’t know what happened there, and I wouldn’t hazard a guess. All I know is no one can explain it. So you’re either the greatest fraud that’s ever existed, or you do have some sort of insight the rest of us don’t. I’m so desperate for anything I can use either.”

At least he was honest – he had to give him that. “So when do we take this trip?”

He glanced back at him, trying very hard not to let hope or relief color his expression. “I’d like to do it as soon as possible.”

“As far as I know, we don’t have a gig tonight. I suppose you could pick me up at eight or something.”

“Gig?”

Gryphon waved his hand dismissively. “Haunted house, the stuff I do for Spirit Guides.”

He looked a bit skeptical. “That pay well?”

He chuckled at that, but quickly ran out of breath, and had to swallow back the urge to cough. He knew if he got started now, he might not stop for a while. “Fuck no. Believe me, if I could do anything else, I’d be doing it instead.”

Gain some weight, and you’d be a fabulous male stripper, Hugh said.

Don’t even joke, Mr. Aronofsky snapped.

With all this power, it’d be nothing to knock over a bank and get away clean, Ray interjected. Or fuck, just empty an ATM. Should be easy enough to do.

That stripper idea sounds good now, Mr. Aronofsky commented.

O’Leary still seemed skeptical. “So just like that? I pick you up tonight?”

“Why not? What did you think was gonna happpen?”

That left him slightly nonplussed. He shrugged, and then admitted, “I dunno. I thought you were gonna turn me down or demand payment or something.”

Gryphon shook his head, smirking at his continued disbelief. This actually made for a refreshing change of pace. “I don’t do this for the money; I don’t even do this because I want to. I do this because the dead make me. They saved my life once, and I’ve never stopped paying for it.”

He eyed him like he was going to snap off another evil comment, perhaps another suggestion that he see a psychiatrist. But finally he decided to say, “You know how spooky and nuts that sounds, right?”

“Yeah. There’s no help for it.”

“I guess not.” He stalked back to the door, and paused when he opened it. “Eight o’clock?”

“Eight-ish. Whatever. I have no plans.”

He nodded and ducked out the door, as if he had to leave before he changed his mind about all of this. Maybe he had to.

Why do I have a bad feeling about all of this? Hugh wondered.

It was a fair sense and a fair question, but Gryphon couldn’t answer either.

****

He laid down to take a nap, mainly because he was tired a lot lately – maybe it had something to do with the fact that sleeping in his own bed remained a novelty – but he was asleep for long before he found himself sitting at a small table scarred with cigarette burns and sticky with spilled soda. “So how does this all work again?” Ray asked. He was sitting across the table from him in all his New Wave haircut glory, rather fresh faced for a man whose brief life had been devoted to thuggery, his slightly Satanic looking proto-goatee the only hint of the darkness underneath.

“What?” Gryphon wondered, looking at their surroundings. It was an insanely dark club, one of the dirtier variety, lit here and there with colored spotlights – cotton candy pink, sunlamp yellow, neon blue. The stage with the big pole in the center indicated this was a strip club, although it was currently empty save for them.

“Movin’ on. That whole thing.”

He sighed, sure this was not a conversation he wanted to be having. “Usually, if you can resolve whatever issues are holding you back from accepting death, or take the revenge that’s been sticking in your throat, you can move on.”

Ray nodded, tugging at the spiked dog collar around his throat. He didn’t always wear it in these mindscapes, but he was wearing it the day of the robbery, the day that everything went so horribly wrong. “Yeah, well, I want to ice the fucker who killed me, Stan.”

“He’s serving a life sentence in a maximum security penitentiary for the robbery and subsequent deaths, you know that. We’ve been over this.”

Ray looked at him sharply, his normally sly eyes now glittering like broken glass on the side of the highway. “With your powers, you can kill him without gettin’ in.”

“I have no powers. It’s the others – it’s you – who have the powers. I’m a vessel, nothing more.”

“Ain’t cha splittin’ hairs here?”

“No. I can’t control the PK. That’s up to all of you.”

He slumped back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest, looking for all the world like he was sulking. “If I got this PK, why can’t I use it?”

Gryphon shook his head. “I’m the last person to ask about how all of this works. I don’t know. I’m learning as I bumble along.”

“But you’ve been at this a while, yeah? So you gotta know something.”

“Nothing I want to know, Ray. Nothing that can help you. Ruby’s in the same boat, you know – she wants Dougherty, the guy who killed her. But he’s doing about two hundred years in a Detroit prison. There’s no getting him.”

Ray didn’t look especially pleased with this information. “So what? Are we stuck with you the rest of your life?”

Gryphon could only shrug. “I have no idea.”

“What happens to us if you die?” He demanded. “Do you join us? Do we have to wait until another vessel comes along? Is this over? What?”

Those were all spectacularly good questions, but all he could do was shrug and shake his head. “Ray, I don’t know. I’m as lost as you.”

He rolled his eyes and shook his head, looking at the empty stage. “Sometimes I wonder what you’re good for, ya know?”

He did. He often wondered the same thing himself.

****

Clay made dinner, as he occasionally sometimes did, and Gryphon tried to remember if he ever had pot roast before. Mr. Aronofsky had, so had Hugh, and Ruby had had it in diner form, but Gryphon was sure he hadn’t had it before. His mother wasn’t big on stuff like that.

It boggled his mind that Clay would make something like this for himself, complete with baby potatoes and steamed carrots. Hugh kept insisting “Gay” in his head, and this time Ruby, Ray, and Taneesha joined in. Mr. Aronofsky told them to hush.

Over dinner – which was good, he had to admit – he told Clay what O’Leary had wanted. He listened, but by degrees his expression turned worried, his brow furrowing in concern. “You sure you’re up to that, Gryph? You’re not looking well.”

“I’m fine, I’m just tired.”

You are the worst fucking liar on the planet, Taneesha insisted.

Clay may have thought so too, but he let it go. It wasn’t like he could tell him not to do it.

O’Leary showed up at eight precisely, still looking uncertain about all of this. He drove a battered looking Chevy truck that had probably seen better years, but in the back of the tailgate a tarp covered a shovel and a couple of similar tools, supposedly in case he found a body. But weren’t they supposed to leave that to the forensics team? Maybe he just wanted to make sure there was a body first, and that he wasn’t lying. The interior cabin smelled of stale cigarette smoke, spilled coffee, and a cheap vanilla air freshener.

As they drove to the location of the supposed abduction, they didn’t talk much. Gryphon had asked if they considered the possibility that Juliet was a runaway, and he said yes, they had, but she was a straight A student who didn’t seem unhappy, and her boyfriend was still around, still as stunned as anyone. They’d checked him out too, but as it turned out he was in after-school detention that day, still on school grounds when Juliet went missing. All the standard possibilities had been looked at, and turned up nothing. He noticed O’Leary glance at his watch and scowl, deep enough to carve furrows in his face. “It’ll start working again as soon as I leave.”

He gave him a skeptical sidelong glance. “You do that on purpose?”

“No, I can’t control it. Time just seems to stop around me.”

And that doesn’t sound at all mental, Hugh said.

O’Leary stared at him askance for a very long time, then returned his full attention to the road without saying anything. Sometimes there just wasn’t anything to say.

The site of the abduction was a rural road that seemed to stretch along forever, lined on either side with thick growths of trees and weedy lots. It was the perfect place to disappear. He got out and walked along the edge of a ditch partially full of dirty water, looking up at the sky, which was a deep navy blue – the stars hadn’t quite come out yet. The moon was a sliver of a fingernail hanging in the far corner of the sky, pale enough to be almost translucent.

O’Leary stood beside his parked truck, watching him with a combination of curiosity and skepticism. “Got anything?” he asked.

Gryphon shook his head. “Something happened here, but I don’t know what or when. If she was killed, it wasn’t here.”

Or she’s really shy, Hugh said sarcastically. Speaking of which … Hey, Julie, you still here?

Yes, Julie replied meekly (as if she could reply in any other way). Where would I go?

Julie almost never said a word. Hugh and Ruby could talk him to death, but he sometimes forgot he had Julie with him. Beaten down in life, she remained beaten down in death, and Gryphon had no idea why. She could rage and scream now, no one would stop her, but she sat in the corner and never made a sound.

O’Leary grunted in annoyance and got back in the truck, as Gryphon followed, feeling like he was floating in the air like a kite. Illness was of course a horrible thing, but Gryphon did like these moments when he felt lighter than air, lighter than his flesh and his own personal gravity.

O’Leary drove them deeper into this nowhere location, until tree branches made up a canopy over the road, and it became a dream area to dump a body. Gryphon had a bad feeling in his gut as O’Leary pulled the truck over. ”Wax used to go mushroom hunting in these woods. Him and a bunch of hippies … or whatever the fuck they’re called nowadays, I dunno. Anyways, he – hey, where are you going?”

Gryphon had opened the passenger side door and gotten out while he talked, drifting like a leaf on the wind, feeling himself almost being pulled into the darkness between the trees. There was a small slope, and he slipped on leaf mold, but then he was in the suffocating silence of the woods. There was rustling overhead, the whispers of wings, and vines in the underbrush clung to his ankles, trying to trip him and pull him down. Kid, I don’t like this, Hugh said, as Gryphon distantly heard O’Leary shouting his name. He didn’t call him Gryphon, he called him Ashmore, which seemed really police officer of him.

He drifted past the huge towering hulks of trunks, tree limbs hitting him like they were patting his back in encouragement as he went deeper into the woods. Something was compelling him, although he wasn’t yet sure what or why. He wasn’t alone, though – that much he knew.

Rain started to patter down, making soft noises in the greenery as it struggled to filter down to him, mainly rendered an air clearing mist. The cool water felt good on his face, tickled as it ran through his hair and down his neck. He felt strangely at home here in the overwhelming dark, where the smell of decay was sweet and earthy, and trapped heat radiated up from the mud.

He was attempting to blink away the drops beading in his eyelashes when he found himself face to face with a girl.

She was a little slip of a thing, under five five and probably not even a hundred pounds; it looked like he could break her in half just by squeezing her. She was wearing a half shirt that showed a pale strip of belly and a fake leather miniskirt that hit mid-thigh, revealing stocky legs as slender as reeds. She should have been shivering, but seemed impervious to the cold rain. Her hair was a straight fall of shadows to her bony shoulders, and her eyes were like black holes in a round, ashen face. “Juliet?” he asked, noticing that she had mud caked up to her shins.

“Who?” she asked.

Aw crap.

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