Festival Parking

The Red Feather

From a leather-bound notebook found in the apartment of Kaya Sparrowhawk, dated 1 August 2011.

Damned if I’m going to go quietly to the fucking spirit world.

One minute I’m doing my damn job, the next I’m … well. Alan J. Asshole over at Associated gives me an assignment, I follow up, I do it, and I’m bleeding out on the pavement with a bullet in my stomach. Teach me to keep my head down. Teach me to regurgitate their empty fucking code and blind myself to the stupidity of it all. Most of all, teach me to stop asking questions. Money laundering scheme? No problem, Kaya’s your girl. And if she’s not, gun her 5’2’’ ass down. Go ahead. Pick on the little Native girl.

Either they were already bugging my computer or Alan is more of an asshole than I thought, because as soon as I air my suspicions about this sketchy assignment, they crash my computer, leaving me with the Swiss bank account number and this creepy message: “Have you seen the man in white?” No, motherfucker. And while we’re in storyland, Morpheus, I’m not taking the red pill or the blue pill. Okay?

And just to get one thing straight. I’ve been hacking since I was sixteen, some of it pretty sensitive stuff, but I have never – I repeat, never – been traced back to my apartment. So when this creep asks me about the view from my window – standard thriller-movie bullshit – I get set to run. I don’t take stupid risks and I don’t fuck around with an enemy I know nothing about. But when this white-suit motherfucker shows up at my apartment? That’s when I panic. Maybe if I’d hid in the basement, he wouldn’t have found me. Maybe if I’d gone across the hall and hung out in Jamie’s place for a while, he would have left me alone. But right then, every instinct was screaming: run.

But I couldn’t run fast enough. He caught me before I even got to my bike, and gunned me down on the goddamn cement. You don’t realize how fucking dirty the cement is until your face is right up against it, smelling the thick nauseating tar smell as you bleed out, eye-to-eye with the ants that will crawl over your dead body as easily as they crawled over your live one. I hated, then – hated everything.

When the focus shifted, when the stars came out and I saw the Bear before the sun went down — that’s when I saw her, naked and gunshot and angry, red feathers channeling her lifeblood away, endlessly. We have both been wounded — she by men in white skin, me by some asshole in a white BMW exoskeleton. And when she offers to help me finish the business left undone, to put the fear of the Great Motherfucking Spirit in that jumped-up white-suit-wearing asshole, I accept gratefully and fiercely.

So I’m left with a Swiss bank account number, a powerful thirst for revenge, and a dead sister-in-arms riding me till I bring the fight to the asshole who did this to me. To us. To all of us.

“Have you seen the man in white?” Yeah, I’ve fucking seen him. And I’ll see him again, before I’m through. You can bet on that.

They won’t see this 5’2’’ Native girl coming.

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The Morning News Reports a Survivor

I had been volunteering at the Literacy Services of Wisconsin that day. It was pretty normal until I noticed that Maria hadn’t shown up. She was always so great, one of those people who, despite what had happened in the past, knew her mistakes and wanted to make amends.

I think everyone wants to make amends to their transgressions in the past, they just don’t know how or where to start. Maria chose to get her GED.

I decided that I should visit her home. Several other students told me that her son had come back from prison. They wouldn’t tell me what for, but I was sure it wasn’t anything too terrible. Maria was a great person, and there was no doubt in my mind that she raised a fine son. How could someone mean be raised by someone so sweet? I was sure that he had just lost his way and made some mistake. Maybe I can help him too I thought to myself.

As I got to Maria’s house I noticed the door was slightly ajar. I couldn’t tell if anyone was home. There was very little light coming from the top of the steps, and the shadows could have held anything. I called up to Maria “Hello?” but there was no response. I went there to check on Maria and there was no way I was going to just leave, especially with the door ajar inviting anyone inside.

I began to walk inside, still calling out to her from the shadowed staircase. The staircase creaked like in those old horror films. You know the ones, where they show each foot in a close up shot, following each step backed with a long drawn out creak.

As I got to the top of the stairs I could see the door at the top of the stairs, just a small crack with a dimmed white light beaming through the small opening. I opened the door and found the most horrific sight my eyes had ever seen (many futures sights have now made this seem mundane). Maria was slumped over in her chair.

When I first saw her I didn’t understand. An inkling told me what was wrong, but I was determined to talk to her and I refused to allow such inklings to be true.

You have to ignore some of the bad stuff otherwise it overwhelms the good in the world. Plus the good is always worth more than the bad, so it’s okay.

I approached Maria giving her a slight nudge to wake her and see if everything was okay. She spilled over her chair and blood ran. There had been some blood hidden by the arm of the chair, but as I nudged her I must have knocked something loose, or her loose from something, and the blood spilled down the chair. I will never forget the color of her blood, a dark morbid scarlet illuminated by a lowly television. The smell began to overwhelm me as well. I would have gagged if I had a chance, but I had heard something that made me whirl around in freight.

Large footsteps trampled towards me, pounding against the floor like thunder. I turned and threw my hands in front of me but it was too late. Knife in hand he made one swift motion and sliced my throat open. I gagged for a few seconds before falling to the ground. Some people would describe it like a sack of potatoes hitting the ground. I would describe it like a person hitting the ground. A well mannered woman who spends her time volunteering to better the world around her hitting the ground.

The last sight that I saw was the television. I think the character’s name is Stan on that awful show South Park. He uttered “The last thing that you do before you die is…” and as he was cut off by a character pooping himself. Leave it to shows like South Park to make light of something so awful as death, and I know how awful it is, I’ve experienced it.

I awoke later and I saw the television once more. The television once more began to speak, but this time it was directly to me. I didn’t know it at first, but the television was trying to wake me. No, not trying, waking me. It pained me to move my head, but I managed to do so. I turned my head more so out of confusion than anything because I could have sworn I felt my life leave my body. I opened by eyes only slightly, like when you turn on the lights after being enveloped in the dark from a deep sleep, and began to make out the television once more.

The television was no longer a television, but had been anthropomorphically changed. It now had arms, legs, a torso, and wings. Yes, the arms, the legs, the torso, those were all strange, but the wings were truly amazing. They were wings of stained glass. Where they had been connected to the back of him there were large pieces of stained glass. As the sections of stained glass traversed closer to the outer edges, away from his back, they got smaller and smaller. It seemed as though these pieces never stopped, dividing themselves in half until they could no more, stretching into oblivion.

He spoke to me, calling out my name. He offered to revive me, to make me whole again, and reverse this tragic event. I think he mentioned something I must do but I don’t remember much of the conversation. I was confused, scared, and above all dead. Can one blame me for not remembering something from when I had been previously dead? I think not.

He talked and I remember asking questions, but still not truly remembering the any of the answers (even if I remembered anything from what I had asked I’m not sure I would trust my memory on any of it at this point).

The one thing I can remember quite vividly is asking about Maria. I asked him “Why me? Why not bring Maria back?” He answered quite astutely that he had no need for Maria. I had something to offer him, something that I could give him or perhaps help him with. What I could help him with, if he had even said so at all, I couldn’t remember for the longest time. It later became clear and I now know quite well what he wanted from me.

He brought me back to life, healing my wound that any doctor would have deemed a lost cause. I rose to my feet and checked myself. I was coated in blood, slowly starting to dry at this point.

That was the day I died and came back.

I looked at Maria and saw her glossed eyes. They were glazed and staring into the abyss. I hope that she was happy with how she had spent her days at the Literacy Services of Wisconsin, mending her life and aiming for a GED. I had fallen short with Maria, but I wouldn’t fall short again. Not if I could help it.

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Johnathan Michaels - Adventure Log 1

I saw the same truck twice.

I set my cruise control to 54mph, 1mph under the 55 limit. That way I could keep my foot on the break in case I had to break on the highway. I drove in the right lane so that people could pass me if they wanted to go faster. I had planned out a time of exactly 28 minutes until I was to arrive at my parents’ house in Elm Grove for dinner, just before 6:25pm, the time when I wanted to arrive for 7 o’clock dinner.

Upon cruising down I-94, I noticed a large, white, unmarked semi-truck pulled off into the exit suddenly appear in my peripheral vision. I was quick enough to spot the stalled truck and maneuver my way around it, keeping my composure as I regained my constant speed of 54mph – the perfect freeway speed. I had a cup of coffee before hitting the road like I always do, just to make sure I’m alert enough to be operating a motor vehicle.

Dinner was nice. My parents had prepared tortellini with ricotta filling along with a side of grilled garden vegetables from the local farmer’s market. I had a glass of coconut milk on the side, since most of my family is lactose intolerant. We conversed about our respective weeks, talked about the weather, and the news. My father mentioned briefly about how he was glad to see less union protesters than in recent months. I agreed. We planned a movie for next week during the evening, allowing enough time for me to drive back to my condominium and get adequate sleep for my work in the morning. Eventually we said our good-byes, and left with intentions to see the new Captain America movie. My mother said one of our family friends Joe might come, “I would be happy if he could come along,” I said.

I turned left on Bluemound Avenue and started to head eastward. It was getting darker, and the lack of street lights part of the way made visibility a bit of a chore. When the speed limit increased, I briefly pressed my foot on the acceleration pedal before going into absolute panic, shooting my foot diagonally and slamming it down on the brakes. I barely had a chance to react before facing a head on collision with the same large, white, unmarked semi-truck that I had seen earlier. My airbag deployed, but my seat belt, which I meticulously make sure I fasten every time before I start the engine, wrapped around my neck until I could no longer see, feel, or hear anything around me.

I awoke to find the EMTs astounded that I had survived the crash. I was unscathed. I was… alive.

It was in that short, life changing moment I met Mr. Somebody. The moment that made me realize that, well, nobody ever has complete control.

Even though I now have a second life, I feel like the glass walls of my world have come crashing down.

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Johnathan Michaels - Sin Eater

I am now a “sin-eater”.

What is a sin-eater? I, myself, am still not so sure, what I do know is that the world around me is very different.

I can see people, a large number of people, people who I had never seen around before. I see suffering, I see regret, and I see pain. I see that I was given a second chance when many had their first taken away from them in the most tragic of ways.

Mr. Somebody he calls himself, or maybe I call him that, I’m not sure. He seems to be learned in the ways of this new world I have been tossed into. He seems to be its mediator, taking me across the River of Styx into a world of dark oblivion, and yet at the same time I feel like he is a part of me, and has been for some time.

There are also others that I have met, three so far, that appear to have came under these same circumstances across that River into this World of Darkness. One of them I had worked with before during certain seminars, the other two also highly educated persons who I am less familiar with, but happened to meet during a slight moment of spontaneity which was my first bar visit in my adult life, with the exception of the time I visited a tavern for a boss’s birthday which, to my misfortune, would have led to me to one of the large layoffs for that year had I decided not to attend. Kyra, a liberal-minded native-American, and [Shawn’s Character’s Name], who is educated as well, though to me seemingly naive. From what I can gather we have not met on coincidence, I feel like we have some kind of connection, a connection that cannot be explained, not even by those learned in sin-eater ways.

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Heaven and Earth
The Bargain

The Apostle Islands are not the kind of place I would have expected for a business retreat, but there we were. A starkly beautiful place, though, where the water meets the rocks and the heavens meet them both. Location aside, the retreat was going largely as expected: driving home the importance of initiative, ambition, leadership, and most importantly, team-building. On the second day, as the afternoon was waning, we found ourselves participating in a scavenger hunt, breaking into teams of two to teach us how best to take initiative as an individual while working within a team (or something along those lines).

My team broke up briefly to tackle multiple objects at once, and I went out in search of a ship’s lantern. Sure enough, I found it at the bottom of a small cave. Not too big, perhaps ten feet deep at the most. I thought I might be able to grab a hold of a rock near the lip and lower myself down, putting my toes through the ring at the top of the lantern.

In retrospect, this may have been one of the exercises designed to emphasize working as a team.

Before long, I felt the rock start to come loose, and my attempt to scramble back to the top likely made matters worse. The earth was freed, and came crashing down on top of me as I landed next to the lantern. I felt my breath escape my body before everything turned black. And yet, the blackness gave way to light. Not a warm, welcoming light, but a much colder light than I expected, and bathed in this light was a terrible figure. Skeletal, with space between his floating bones, and his body wrapped in black feathery wings. He asked me why I believed I had been put on this earth.

“To serve the Lord. And honor my family.”

He seemed unsatisfied with my answer, or disdainful, or something like that. I remember his name was Samael, but I don’t remember him saying it. I do remember him telling me that my time had not yet come, and offered to take me back to the world of the living.

What choice did I have? Caught between Heaven and Earth, and seeing that Heaven looked starkly unfamiliar, I chose Earth, although I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not the only once making that choice.

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The Gang's All Here
In Which The Blood/Plot Thickens

When Veronica found me at the hospital, I think I was still in a state of shock. Not that I wouldn’t like to pretend that I respond to death with unflappable equanimity, but the sight of the hanged ghost in the hospital really brought it home. With a vengeance. One’s own death is a shock; being constantly reminded of the deaths of others is swiftly becoming a way of life, intentionally or not. Veronica hinted that it would get easier, and I already feel a mental callous forming. It’s hard to feel empathy to these bitter, screaming echoes of human beings.

Lessons learned — (1) Ghosts don’t always remember what they want/need to leave this world (woman at the beach, man in the bar). (2) Ghosts are doomed to enact their living lives (man in the bar tried to accept my drink). Kind of unnerving to be dragged to the Landmark by Red Arrow Woman, but it was strangely comforting to meet the yuppie and that hopelessly optimistic girl-child. Not that I’d be seen dead (heh heh, very funny) with them otherwise, but…

At least I know that having been dead doesn’t make talking to cops any more (or less) difficult. Nothing makes your morning brighter than peering through the slit of the door and seeing a plainclothes officer, flanked by a Magical Floating Ghost Lady (on a perpetual ridealong?) He asked me a few questions about the White Man and left me alone, but not before his ghostly companion scrawled he knows in red lipstick over my mirror. What he knows is a mystery, but it’s nice to know that they can interact with the physical world. That’s the third thing I learned about ghosts.

Sin-eater is the preferred nomenclature, apparently. The sailor creep gave us a “Great-Lakes-Krewe-for-Dummies” spiel, a lot of metaphoric bullshit about moving on to the Other Side. Sometimes a lake is just a lake. He did suggest that we help a ghost pass on to the other side of said Mystic Fucking Lake. For the sake of my bathroom mirror, I suggested LeMain’s ghost. Although given the lengths that I went to attempting to get her police records, maybe this was a bad idea.

Kaya Sparrowhawk

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Take My Wife
Tae-Song and Paula

This is a tough life (?) to get used to. Your perspective on things begins to change in ways you wouldn’t have thought possible. Fitz suggested that a good way to come to grips with our new existence is to help a troubled spirit pass on. They certainly seem to be in abundance, but Kaya and Michaels seemed to know of one who hangs around a police detective; specifically, the detective who’s been helping Kaya with the case of her almost-murder. It seemed as good a starting point as any.

It turns out that this ghost is the deceased wife of Detective LeMain, who died under mysterious circumstances about two years ago. Michaels and Gabby decided to look for information; Kaya and I would go to the police station to get a chance to talk to Paula LeMain. Kaya set up an appointment with the detective, while I stayed out in the waiting room, speaking to Paula in Korean, with my cell phone up to my ear.

But where do you start with a tortured spirit unable to pass on to the afterlife? Simply asking “Why are you here?” Might as well try. She told me, again and again, that Terrence was the reason she was still here. Terrence is here, so she has to stay here. So that they can be together.

I borrowed Fitz’s metaphor of the world as a Lake: we all must eventually cross from the land of the living to the land of the dead, but some boats get wrecked on the coast of the living, leaving their passenger wandering here when they should be crossing over. And if we want either side to mean anything, we have to respect that journey and cross over when it is our time.

But Paula seemed rather insistent that it is not her time, and she does not have to cross. She has to stay here, with Terrence, so they can be together forever. She said that Terrence knew she was still here, which seemed more than a little odd to me. But the real crazy came when she mentioned the bedroom. That she/they had to stay because of the bedroom. I asked what she meant. What happened in the bedroom? But she seemed profoundly unwilling to proceed with that conversation, insisting that she needed to go talk to Terrence. I decided not to risk an astral confrontation in the police station, and let her go, but this was not over.

I asked Paul the next day if he had any advice on how to deal with such a stubborn specter, and he suggested going to check out the bedroom myself, a thought I had already reluctantly entertained. So on Saturday, I did exactly that. Michaels and I went to an abandoned house near Detective LeMain’s and buried me alive in the garage. The night of the Bargain came rushing back to memory: the crushing weight of the earth, the total darkness, the sense that something was happening that was not quite of this world. But it was not the same, and my spirit did not die.

Things look different in Twilight. Everything seems further away somehow, and less real. The first time you pass through a solid physical object as if it were a hologram leaves you with an unshakable feeling that this is far too dream-like to be real. But there was the house, as real as can be. And the detective was not home, which meant Paula would not be home, either. Assuming that tempting fate would be unwise, I made straight for the bedroom, and sure enough there was a large death-stain on the bed, a little faded after two years, but unmistakable. No other signs of anything unusual, like blood or a fight, but there has to…

That closet. That closet looks far too shallow. That can’t be right, the outer walls are too far back for this to be the end of the closet. And I just so happen to be able to walk through walls.

Behind the closet’s back wall is a room more terrifying than anything campfire ghost stories could conjure. The walls are plastered with pictures of Terrence and Paula, covered with the phrase “Terrence + Paula Forever”, scrawled in red ink. Two mannequins rest against the walls wearing necklaces with wedding rings on them. Whips. Chains. Bondage gear. A closer look reveals that many of the pictures have a third man in them (including some depicting rather indecent scenarios), whose face has been burned out with a cigarette. In one picture, you can see that the third man is a police uniform; no rank insignia, but the badge bears the name “Arnhem.” And in the corner is a small black book. A small black book that I cannot open because I’m currently in Twilight, but maybe in time, I cou-

“What are you doing here?”

Uh oh. Think fast, Tae-Song. “Gathering information.”

“You’re not supposed to be here. Get out.”

“Paula? Is that you?”

“Get out.”

“Is this Paula?”

GET OUT.”

What came next sounded like a firecracker and felt like getting hit in the chest with a whip. I came back to my body in an instant, with far more information than I had been expecting. I can’t imagine I got on Paula’s good side, though, but I think we’re closer to helping her. Much more work to be done, of course.

What’s that saying? “It’s always darkest before the dawn?” I sure hope so, because that closet felt like midnight, and I could use some sunlight.

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Ghosts Aren't Rational, Go Figure
We all cling on to life, who are we to judge the dead?

As it turns out, getting information from Terrance wouldn’t be easy. I reluctantly went along with Gabrielle (taking time out of her clubbing schedule to do something useful? Wow), but I don’t think I would be able to stand spending a lot of time with Kyra. I was in the end, glad to work with the lesser of two evils. Lee is the most tolerable out of the three I have to work with, even though he could use some work on his English. He shares the same penitence for lack of prudence that I do, being a driven individual, I respect that. Learning to help others is something that will force all of us to change ourselves, however…

So begins the long list of obstacles that will stand in our way, as Gabby and I encountered another snag when our excursion to dig up information on the late wife of Terrance the Detective went awry. Long story short, we were found out, and it’ll only be a matter of time before Terrance knows somebody is trying to dig up information that he himself may not be comfortable disclosing. We did however, manage to acquire the name of a very large chain of funeral homes and services, leading us to two of the most knowledgeable necrophiles in the Milwaukee area; Emmanuel and Nicholas Burgess. Kyra and Gabrielle set out on a quest to dig up information about Paula LeMain, while Lee and I (thank God) went into the fray at Terrance’s place of residence, using some newly acquired sin-eater powers to project ourselves into his home.

A short while later, Lee comes bursting up out of the ground, exasperated and shaken. I turn to him, eager to hear what he has found…

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Dead Sound
In which the heroes meet some creeps who nevertheless impart important information, and a shady deal is made

Our investigation into the pig‘s little ghost problem has been making progress. Choppy, stunted progress, but progress nonetheless. Johnathan’s new friend Lee was able to talk to Paula LeMain in person (if you can call it that), while I distracted Terrence by doing some more sketches of that asshole. I did well enough on the sketches, but they ended up being a disappointment. The White Man’s face is generic as his suit was distinctive, and that’s a goddamn shame. The sketch does bear a resemblance to someone suspected for other crimes by the MPD, so I guess I’ll just have to hang tight until more information comes my way. Right now I’m preoccupied with Paula, but once that little project is completed to the Creep’s satisfaction, I can move right back to figuring out why I died, and how I can get me a little payback.

Lee got a little information about Paula. His biggest problem is that he’s too damn polite for his own good, tiptoeing around that ghost’s feelings like it will get him somewhere. Caution will get us nowhere –- a lesson I think we’ve all learned since. Lee says that Paula insisted that she stuck around because Terrence wants her around, but she seems to be hiding something -– some other reason. An unsolved murder, perhaps? She refused to speak further, and Lee was too fucking chivalrous to force the issue. A start, at least.

We met at the Oakland Trattoria that night to discuss our findings. Gabby and Johnathan had gone to North Shore Funeral Services, where they’d taken Paula for her visitation. Closed-casket funeral, they said. She was cremated offsite at Burgess & Burgess funeral home out in Tosa. While getting this information, they managed to arouse suspicion, and Gabby even gave the receptionist her real name. She has a while to go before she’s comfortable with the semi-legal or frankly illegal bits of things. I will rejoice when she learns to lie.

At that point, we still had no real leads but the body. We had suspicions that there was something other than her undying love for Terrence that kept her in this plane, and we knew that she thought that Terrence knew she was there. Burgess & Burgess seemed like a good place to start, but Gabby and Johnathan’s most recent escapade showed that making inquiries at a funeral home can be seen as somewhat suspicious.

So we broke company that night with plans to reconvene on Saturday, because apparently everyone else has day jobs. I need one eventually, of course, but I have enough left to live comfortably for a month or so, more if I consciously save money. Two of my krewe talked to other Sin-Eaters about how to move forward, Gabby to Kitana and Lee to Paul. Paul told Lee something very important –- that the brothers who own Burgess & Burgess are like us, ridden by geists. Paul even said that the elder brother, one Emmanuel Burgess, talks to the cadavers that come in. That report could be valuable, revealing not only what Paula chooses to tell us, but what her body looked like when it came in, her exact cause of death … in short, could be a windfall for our investigation.

That may seem macabre, but it was nothing compared to the other line of investigation. Paula insisted that she needed to return to the bedroom –- the only idea we had was that the bedroom she’d mentioned was the bedroom she shared with Terrence. We ascertained that the house that Terrence lived in now was the same one that he lived in two years ago, at the time of Paula’s death. Getting in undetected was a problem, until Lee tentatively suggested something that, had it not been for the last two weeks, would have seemed unthinkable. Lee thought that if we buried him alive, he might be able to unhinge his spirit form from his earthly body and wander as pure spirit. I’m sure this seemed somewhat more plausible to me than it did to Gabby or Johnathan – after all, journeys to the spirit world operate on the same principle. We decided to split forces. In an emergency, we’d need someone to stay with Lee and dig his body out of the ground if he failed utterly, as none of us knew how dire the consequences could be if Lee was wrong, or if he messed up. Johnathan, the strongest of us, stayed to help Lee, and Gabby and I decided to visit Burgess & Burgess earlier that night.

We arrived in the late afternoon. It was sprinkling rain as we pulled in, so I pulled my bike up under a tree to shield it from the downpour, if one came up. Gabby and I approached the front of the building, which had the ubiquitous funeral-home pillars in the front of it. The fake, sanctimonious dignity of it was, frankly, amusing. If what has happened to us says anything, it’s that there is no dignity in death. Drops of blood on a Jackson Polluck — that’s all we are, in the end.

The man who opened the door looked like he spent the best part of his day in front of a mirror. Nick, I supposed, the younger Burgess. Look up “lush” and crossreference it with “twat” on Urban Dictionary and I guarantee you his face will come up, grinning like only a fucking white boy can, like he owns the fucking world. He stole something from me when I touched him, something I do not take kindly to. We outlined our business to him, and he took us down to see his brother in the morgue.

I called Fitz “The Creep” before, and I don’t take that back, but he don’t hold a candle to Emmanuel Burgess. I have no doubts that he actually speaks to the bodies he dresses for death, but that doesn’t make his solicitude towards them any less sickening. We asked him about Paula’s case, and he had spoken to her. Lucky for us. The flip side, of course, is that by asking for this information, we have to swear to some future boon, to be performed whenever Emmanuel or Nick call in the favor. I don’t enjoy being in debt, but this seems like the kind of rite of passage it’s not wise to put off. I got a second lease at life, and now I refuse to live in half-measures. It’s all or nothing now. I convinced Gabby to promise to the favor, and we came away with a file written up by Emmanuel about Paula’s condition when she came in, what she’d said … Hopefully the puzzle pieces start falling together, because I’m getting fucking tired of tiptoeing around this mystery. I’m ready to blow this shit up. Bring it.

Kaya Sparrowhawk

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Killer Cop
In which an unsatisfying conclusion is reached

Lee‘s little bit of grave dirt turned up some real pay dirt, if you know what I mean. We finally got a name we could use. Officer Arnhem, first name Arnold, friend of the couple. Very good friend, if you get my meaning. A quick search turned up tons of information. Arnold was indeed another cop, a close friend of Terrence’s since high school at Marquette. His dad was a cop, retired and pensioned, and Arnhem was all set to continue to follow in his father’s footsteps. Well, until he killed himself last year.

His death, just a year after Paula’s, fits uncomfortably well. Maybe the guilt drove him to suicide. Maybe he was murdered. Maybe he was driven to suicide by more esoteric means. Combined with the photographs on the walls of the BDSM room Lee found and the necro freak’s insistence that her injuries were consistent with a strangling rather than a laceration, Paula’s manner of death comes into obvious focus. She gets off on pain. Two pigs (surprise, surprise) get off on inflicting it. Pig gets too into it, pig loses control, pig kills Paula. Doesn’t matter if it’s Pig 1 or Pig 2, they’re both in on it. Then the they panic, need to cover it up. If it was Terrence who killed his wife, maybe Arnhem was close to spilling what really happened. If it was Arnhem, maybe Terrence felt the need to avenge her. Though why he wouldn’t murder-suicide that one, I don’t know. He’s just as guilty in that case.

His suicide means one other thing, too – shrinks. Cops get shrinks because everyone agrees that the pigs need ‘em — give a psychopath a gun and you’ll feel more comfortable if he goes to therapy every other week to work out his issues. Maureen Tinsdale, cop shrink – specializes in post-traumatic stress disorders and abuse issues. Sounds like our woman. How to get the information out of her – that’s the question.

On the weekends, Dr. Tinsdale works at the same hospital as Veronica (hell, I could have used a good PTSD shrink after I was gunned down in the street — but somehow I think she’s on a higher pay scale.) So once the krewe left my apartment that night, I shot Veronica a text. Turns out she was down at The Jazz Estate for a show, so I met her down there.

The band was good. Veronica even mentioned that the frontman was one of us. I got a beer and listened — the first time I’d been able to let go of it all since I died. Speaking with Veronica was like talking to an old friend. Maybe it’s because I saw her so soon after my death, but I feel comfortable with her in a way that’s almost strange. Scary. I don’t know.

Anyway, I explained our situation to Veronica, who said she knew Tinsdale. I outlined what we thought our options were – convincing her to give us the information was nigh on impossible, as I knew, and the two other options (intimidation and stealth) both fell on the wrong side of the law, and I knew the girl scout would pitch a fit. Of the two, Veronica seemed to think that money would work the best, but Maureen Tinsdale wouldn’t be cheap – a grand would do it, but who has that? Maybe the yuppie, but certainly not me. I knew it would be hard to convince him to invest in our little operation. Nobody likes to bankroll an investment with no real return. After that conversation, the rest of the night passed quickly.

The next day, we reconvened at Lee’s, where we had the most contentious argument yet about our course of action. As predicted, Gabby was squeamish on bribery, so Lee suggested that I attempt to access Tinsdale’s files remotely. It was such a long shot that I almost refused to try. What are the chances that she would have her files shared on the building’s network? What were the chances that her information would be stored digitally rather than in analog form? Not good, but thankfully for us, Maureen is as harebrained as she is greedy, and while her own notes seemed to be done on paper, she kept .mp3s of each interview in a shared folder on her network. I accessed Arnhem’s and LeMain’s and logged off.

Arnhem’s interviews started shortly after Paula’s death, and continue until the week before his suicide (?) the following year, whereupon LeMain’s begin. Listening to the endless bitch-and-moan of pigs is, frankly, not my thing. I tried, but in the end stopped after an hour or so of Arnhem’s bullshit. I got them the damn information. Let them sort through it.

Lee eventually got through all of the information, and the mystery finally began to take shape. Some time after Paula’s death (the cause of which is never discussed, interestingly enough) Arnhem started having fugue episodes, blacking out, showing up in random places and not remembering how he got there. These got worse with time. One time he found his tools gone. Another time he found his hands covered in plaster dust. Immediately before he killed himself, he got violent in Tinsdale’s office when she began prying. A week later, he was dead.

Which is when LeMain’s difficulties begin. His symptoms are eerily similar — missing time, waking up disoriented and scared. In the ensuing year his symptoms, too, have gotten worse. Last week’s session, he turned up wearing his wedding ring, and when Tinsdale asked him why he had no idea where it had come from. In short, it seemed as if LeMain was on the same track as Arnhem had been. It’s a tribute to Tinsdale’s immense stupidity that she didn’t make the connection and put the motherfucker on suicide watch — not that it would help.

At this point, only one thing mattered — discovering the truth about what happened to Paula. At this point, the time for tiptoeing around is finally over. We needed to talk to Terrence. I convinced the krewe to come with me for an intervention.

We staked out LeMain’s house — rather inexpertly, I’ll admit — but he didn’t seem to notice us when he came home at 11:00. Shortly afterwards, I came up to the door. I pretended like something had happened to me, and told him I needed to talk to him. When he noticed I wasn’t alone, I told him I’d been scared, and let him think what he would. Poor woman, spooked by some businessman in a white suit? Or is he really going after me again? Maybe he remembered Lee from the other time I’d come to see him, because he believed me and let us in.

Once in, everybody seemed to want to go shrink on him. I can’t pretend that we work well as a team. Everyone has their own agenda, and for a while nobody let anyone else talk. It was all so inane, and we weren’t getting anywhere, so after a while I couldn’t help but get fed up with the bullshit.

I stood up and asked the pig where his bedroom was. The bedroom that started all of this. He must have wanted to believe us, just a little bit, because he led us upstairs.

I turned to Lee. “Which wall?” He pointed.

Terrence: “How do you know about that?”

Lee started talking about his incorporeal jaunt, but I could have told him to save his breath. Either Terrence believed us or he didn’t. He looked as if he was beginning to believe us, anyway — babbling about how it wasn’t his fault, it was an accident, if they hadn’t covered it up Arnold would have gone to jail. The bile rises in my throat, and I know this is what I needed to know. This pig has confessed to covering up his wife’s murder. His wife, who loved him and trusted him. Her murder transforms him into nothing more than a gang rapist. This man deserves to die, deserves to be strangled as Paula was strangled, and maybe in those final gasping moments of life, he will understand.

Meanwhile, my krewe were still attempting to talk this through. Johnathan started babbling about the little black book, but it was too late; as Paula’s ghostly form edged towards Terrence he got fainter and fainter, and although Lee blended into twilight and tried to stop her, she melded into him and grabbed hold, which is when he grabbed his Glock.

I can’t explain what happened after that. Red Arrow Woman seemed to wrap wings around me, and my head filled with a roaring that wasn’t wholly unpleasant. My vision narrowed down to what was in front of me. I could smell Terrence’s fear. I know I didn’t get any taller, but my muscles seemed to bunch and knot until I felt like hurting, like hunting.

I sprang at Terrence, trying to wrestle him to the ground. I could sense Lee to my left, attempting to grab the Glock away from Terrence, and dimly, as if from a long way off, felt-saw-heard the gun discharge, but I didn’t care. As I wrestled the pig, I could hear faint crashing noises behind me — the sounds of a wall being kicked to pieces. I barely felt the pig’s teeth as they sank into my arm.

But he was too strong for me. Paula was inside him, helping him, and he was stronger than I, even the wild-me that I had unleashed. I could see her eyes, somehow, inside his eyes. Why are you staying with him? I wanted to ask. Why love him? This man killed you. So I stepped sideways and arrived, myself, in Twilight.

My strength was flagging, and I didn’t know how much I had left. But I had to try. Grabbing Paula herself, I attempted to drag her out of her body. Failing once, failing twice, I barely noticed the chasm that opened up underneath me as, behind me, Johnathan was ripping up Arnhem’s black-bound diary. With a final wrench, Lee rips Paula from LeMain and she falls, screaming, into the pit below.

A part of me, watching from behind myself, feels a spark of sadness, but suddenly, I am filled with anger. There is no justice in this. That woman deserved her revenge, and what have we done? We have saved the life of a man who, along with his best friend, abused the trust of a woman who gave him her vulnerability, then committed the final indignity of covering up the sordid details of her death. But guess what, Terrence? Violence begets violence, motherfucker. And I hear you’re into whips.

Kaya Sparrowhawk

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