Wait and See - pt. 7.2
Chicago, July 29th, 11:12 am
"Should I bother asking how you got in?" Meyer asked the woman sitting at his kitchen table. It was a damn good thing he didn't have a piece handy or he'd have shot her out of utter surprise.
"You left the back door window open," Tiana replied, slouched back in the only free chair there was. She looked like she'd been running to get here, and her voice was as flat as a pasteboard.
"You didn't…" he asked, looking at the small crack in the window by the back door. A junkie with really long, skinny arms might just have been able to reach over from it to turn the knob.
"I guess I did."
He groused: "Okay, you got in."
"Yeah, I got in," she replied. She almost sounded like she didn't believe it, either.
"So what do you want, Denice?"
"I need help," she said: "I really… really need some help, right now."
Meyer just looked at her.
"You want some help?" he said, sighing: "I want a glass."
He'd gotten home about a half an hour ago. He'd have been home sooner, but there'd been the stop at the coffee shop and the liquor store, too. That and the traffic - always the traffic.
He'd planned on coming home, putting on some Mozart, and getting slightly mind-smashed in front of the stereo. Then he was going to take a long, long shower. After that he was going to go to bed and sleep for a whole day if he could manage it. And then - and only then - was he going to let himself feel sorry for himself.
Meyer had gotten about as far as the Mozart. The kitchen of his small house was as cluttered as some of the crime scenes he'd been witness to over the years, and it'd taken him forever to find a clean glass for the milk, Kahlua and Baileys he'd picked up. Forever was also spent trying to get some hot water to come into the dish-stacked sink, just in case he had to clean a glass, thinking about cleaning out the refrigerator and almost - only almost - starting to sob.
But he'd finally found his glass. It was all the way back at the far back corner of one of the cabinets, and it shone like diamond in his hands. He'd smiled, and turned right around to take it into the living room.
And then he'd seen her, at the table, and dropped the thing right on the floor. It had cracked and smashed into a thousand splinters, between his feet.
"I ain't got a glass," she said, looking up at him through her shades: "I what I do have is a missing partner, and I need your help to find him."
"I'm not with the police, anymore, honey," he said, going to find a broom: "I'm just me, now."
"Oh," she said, looking up at him, again: "I'm sorry."
"That makes two of us."
"I didn't know-"
"Well, you do now," he said, finding the broom - stacked in the corner next to an umbrella and a long, thin cardboard box that should have been thrown out ages ago - and looking for a dustpan: "I'm fired, and I'm tired, and all I want to do is…"
"What?" she asked after the pause went on too long.
"Find a fucking dustpan."
"Here," she said, holding one out.
He looked at it, then at her.
"It was on the table, Frank," she said.
He took it gently: "Thanks."
"I just want to get my head straight again," he said, looking at her: "I haven't had my head straight for the last six fucking months. Do you know what that's like?"
"Yeah," she said.
"You sure about that?" he asked, bending over to clean up the mess: "I mean, I got some real gripes, here."
"I haven't had my head straight for a couple years now, Frank."
He groaned. Damn. That was right, wasn't it…?
"Well, you look okay to me," he said, trying to smile.
She thought of her apartment, and what she'd done to it. She thought about what was left of her drugs, sitting in the screw-top container. And she thought about what was going to be happening soon…
"I ain't," she said.
"No. I ain't. I ain't alright, and I ain't got the time to get alright."
"So you want me to help you?" he said, standing back up with a dustpan full of broken glass.
"Please?" She pleaded, her voice breaking: "Frank… if I could, I wouldn't get you any further into this."
"I mean it… I do. But… I can't do this on my own. Not now. I need help."
Meyer couldn't see her eyes behind the shades, but if they were anything like the rest of her face, they were probably pitiful. He'd never, ever seen her like this.
He signed, nodded and tossed the dustpan down to the ground. It clattered and the glass was dusted all over the floor.
"Okay," he said: "Okay. I'll do it."
"Yeah, I will. Now please, stop looking like you're going to cry."
"I can't cry?" she said.
"No. You don't get to cry until I do, okay?" he said: "Besides, you crying just doesn't happen."
"It does, Frank," she said, smiling weakly.
"Yeah, well not in my world," he said, turning around and looking for his coat: "That's somewhere in the Book of Revelations. End of the world. Flood, famine, disease, war, pigs fly, hell freezes over, and you bawl like a little girl with a skinned knee."
She chuckled: "You'd be surprised."
"Well, I've had enough surprises…" he muttered: "Besides, I owe you."
"For getting you fired?"
"You're the last thing I remember seeing before the nightstick dropped me, last night," he replied, smiling: "And you looked like you were about to kick someone's ass."
"Yeah…" she nodded, smiling just a little: "I was."
He smiled a little bit more, and then took a good whiff of his coat. It stunk. And so did he.
"Listen, do you mind if I shower, first?" he asked: "If we're gonna go play bloodhound I'd rather not have to smell like one, too."
"I noticed," Tiana replied.
"You go ahead, hon," she said, leaning back in the chair: "I need a rest, too. Jesus."
"And then, um…" he began to say.
"When I'm done? Before we step out…? I want you to tell me what's really going on, here."
She looked up at him, and nodded: "I figure I owe you that."
"Damn straight. And I sure hope you're not going to tell me something I really don't want to hear. I just got played by people I don't like. I'm hoping my friends'll be a little more straight with me."
"How straight do you want it?"
She nodded: "I can't tell you everything, Frank. There's Federal, and there's more than Federal here, too."
"Then tell me what you can," he said: "But I gotta know what the fuck's going on here. Just for my own peace of mind."
"There ain't no peace of mind there, Frank," she sighed.
But when he was done with his shower - and she was a little more mentally composed - she told him, anyway.
New York, July 29th, 12:45 pm
"…and that, my friend, is why I ran to America as fast as I could go," Leon said, looking up at his "guest" from the chair he'd been forced to park his ass in.
If the old man had been horrified, astonished or even nauseated by the tale the Russian had spun over the last hour or so, he didn't show it. Of course, Leon wouldn't have expected any less; "John" had a face like a rock.
"I am sorry," Tiamat said, not lowering his gun a fraction of an inch. He'd pointed it directly at Leon's forehead the entire time.
"You are sorry?" Leon asked: "You are sorry for what? For making me tell this tale? For not even letting me put on a robe?"
"No," the old man replied, shaking his head ever so slightly: "I knew that one day I would make you tell me this story, Leon. It is why I helped you. As for how you dressed for the occasion… well, so be it."
"Then what are you sorry for, you bastard?"
"That it did not work," Tiamat said.
"I am sorry that you have gone through so much for so little, Leon."
Leon nodded: "I did not ask for this."
"Very few people ask for a bullet in the head, my friend," Tiamat replied: "You were lucky. If it had lodged anyplace else in your brain, they would have left you to die."
"And if it had worked, and I had become a useful subject? What then?"
Tiamat looked at a grainy, poorly-copied photograph on one of the report's pages. One might have mistaken it for a picture of someone's fancy, glass spice rack, until one realized that all the spice jars contained the same ingredient. It was something much like a pale tadpole without eyes, gills or a mouth, floating in liquid that - judging from the flakes gathering at the bottom - had to be old, inert formaldehyde.
Each jar had a label. Each label had a case number. Some of the earlier case numbers were accompanied by names.
"You have told me already, I think," Tiamat said.
"And I think I know what you want," Leon said.
"Yes, I do," the Russian spat: "Fucking American intelligence people. You think we have a weapon so you build the same weapon. Cold War or no war, you do not change."
Tiamat just smiled: "You do not know what I want, Leon."
"What do you want, then?"
The old man raised the pistol up, still pointing it at Leon's head: "If I was to tell you, I would have to shoot you. Is that what you want?"
Leon shut his mouth, shaking his head ever so slightly in the negative.
"Good. I like you, Leon. And I think I will need people like you when I return."
"Where are you-"
The gun THIIIPed again, and the wall just above and behind Leon's head exploded into plaster flakes. He ducked down, putting his hands over his head and wincing, eyes screwed tightly shut.
"It is as I have said, my friend," Tiamat smirked: "If I was to tell you, I would have to shoot you. You do understand this, now, yes?"
The Russian nodded, eyes still screwed shut.
"Good. So let us play a new game, Leon. I will ask you questions, and you will give me answers, and then I will leave."
"And then you will kill me, you mean."
"No. I will not kill you," the old man replied: "Nor will anyone else. You have my word."
"I do not trust your word."
"You can trust me to kill you if you do not answer me."
Leon winced once more, sighed, and then - resigned to his fate - opened his eyes, sat back in his chair and nodded.
And so the game began.
Baltimore, July 29th, 1:00 pm
"Do you play?" Patient 437 asked, holding up a soft-edged card up to the light. He held it with the two remaining, scarred and stretched fingers on his right hand. It was the Ace of Spades.
"I used to," Rachel said, remotely aware of the fascinating ruin of the man's outline. The lights on his side of the interview room - behind a three-inch thick plexiglass window - had been turned out, which made it hard to make out too much. Not that she was really looking…
"No. Not so much, anymore."
"Why not?" He asked, FNAPing the card down and picking up another. His voice was angelic, yet ever so slightly tainted at the edges by a sweet rust of desire.
"I played too much, before," she replied: "I guess I got burned out."
The man chuckled: "I know the feeling."
She nodded, staring at his mouth. She hadn't taken her eyes off that mouth even once: not when the orderlies finally let the man into the other side of the room (after making her wait for two hours: "prep time," they said), not when he first addressed her, and not now. She made a game of counting his perfect, white teeth as they shone in the scant light that got through the plexiglass.
It was hard for her to maintain that point of view. The Director had warned Rachel that most people had a hard time looking at him, much less speaking with him. Between that and his own, unique pathology, it was hard to keep any psychologists past the third session. Lights out or not, the slivers of him that became visible over time were, indeed, quite sickening
For Rachel, however, the situation was quite reversed: it was hard for her to not look at him. From what little she'd seen, he was, without a doubt, one of the most disgusting things she had ever seen in her life. Given her experiences, that was saying a lot.
Only little pieces betrayed what was left of him, but they were quite evocative of the whole. He seemed like a man who was roughly fashioned from port wine cheese-spread gone slightly crusty, and then left to melt in the sun. His skin was reddened, sore and runny in some places, and pale and stretched tight to the bone in others.
His left hand was a scarred, taut thing with but two fingers remaining, and his right hand was never even seen. Every so often, when he leaned forward, she could see the flaring, inflamed hole that was his nose, and just above that, the red-black ruin of his eye sockets.
She had to be very, very careful not to look at them: if she did, it was all over. Alphonse had been very clear on that, and she didn't need any reminders. But she had something a lot more pleasant to look at, instead. It was the only thing that hadn't been touched by the acid he'd doused himself in prior to his capture
It was his mouth, and it was perfect.
His lips were full, red and sensual. His teeth were gorgeous. And his tongue was a delight to watch as it moved luxuriously about that mouth, slowly enunciating his words. He talked as though he were tasting each and every syllable that rolled out between those lips of his.
And he was quite aware of her fascination.
"I must admit I am… curious," the patient said, picking up another card. Seven of Hearts.
"Why… why are you here… as a member of the Library of Congress?" he asked, putting the card down and holding his ruined hand over it.
"It's my new job," she said, simply.
"After everything you've been through?" he asked, leaning back a little and fixing his non-eyes upon her: "After everything you've seen… everything you've done? Being a Librarian just seems so…"
"Ordinary?" she filled in the blank.
"No. No… Not ordinary. Librarians are never ordinary people. Libraries aren't ordinary places."
"Especially not the one you work for."
She nodded, thinking of what she'd almost done in that place. Alphonse had only recently hold her about the backup plan he'd had in place if she'd tried to go through with it after all. She didn't know whether to feel scared or relieved.
"I got a transfer," she said.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"Your handler… he had to pull some strings, I imagine."
She just smiled: "I don't think you need me to answer that."
It was his turn to nod. He pulled up another card and regarded it.
"I could use some strings pulled on my behalf," he said: "What I really wanted was a chess set… a proper one. I could understand if all they would give me was plastic and pasteboard, but I wanted a proper chess set."
"And they said no."
"And they said nothing, actually. But I take it the answer is no."
"Yes," she said, figuring he'd maneuvered the conversation that way six steps ago. It was a harmless admission, though.
"Do you know why?" he asked, showing off the card at last. Six of Clubs. FNAP.
"They thought you could use it to choke yourself. Either that or as a makeshift weapon, or a tool of some kind."
"You have done your homework."
"I like to be prepared."
He smirked, matching hers exactly. Then he picked up another card.
"So they wouldn't trust me with a chess set, but they gave me these playing cards, instead," he smirked: "The edges are soft but I can still slice myself open if I need to…"
"…but you're not even remotely suicidal," she replied.
"They don't think so."
"They don't know why you really doused yourself with hydrochloric acid."
He smiled, then, and it was a cruel smile: the sort of thing that could have reduced a person's heart to ground, red shards of glass.
"And you and your handler… you think you know why I did that?"
"We do, yes."
"No," she said: "I think I've answered enough questions. Now it's your turn."
He put the card down, still smiling: "Whatever could I possibly tell you that you don't already know?"
"The Director told you the purpose of my visit."
"Yes, but I was of the opinion that you thought you knew everything about me. So I'm rather curious as to why we're even having this conversation. Surely you'd know the answers already."
Rachel cursed mentally. The bastard had rooked her, and good. She put her hands on the table and leaned forward a little, giving herself just enough time to think of a good response.
"What we said to the Director was just a smokescreen," she explained: "We don't need to confirm that you're the one who wrote in that book. We have your handwriting sample on file. We double checked it. It's you."
"So you want to know why, then?" he asked, picking up yet another card.
"We know that, too," she said: "The same reason you ever did anything. That little voice in your head told you."
He paused, and his smile wavered. It didn't take a genius to figure she was pissing him off.
"That little voice…" he started to reply: "You should know that His voice is not a little one, Ms. Logan. Not a little voice at all."
"How much do you think you know about me?"
"What He has told me," the patient said: "And He knows everything."
"Not everything," she replied.
"No," he insisted: "Everything."
"So if He knew everything, why did He waste all that time on me?" she asked: "He should have known I was going to welch on my part of the deal."
"He did," he replied without missing a beat.
"Then why is He so angry?"
The patient smiled that cruel smile again, and then drummed his two fingers on the desk: "If that lullaby helps you sleep at night, you're welcome to it. But… with all that you know… all that you've seen… aren't you a little too old to be sitting at the kids' table, Ms. Logan?"
"You know…" she said, smiling: "That omnipotent deity line didn't wash with me when I heard it from my folks about their god. It sure as hell doesn't wash with yours, either."
"My my… one little, perceived victory's made you rather bold."
"I bent your God over and fucked Him like a little boy in a Catholic Church. You tell me how that's a perceived victory."
That did it. The smile turned into a definite, angry frown.
"I'm not interested in your blasphemy, anymore, Ms. Logan," he said: "Come to a point or I'll call for the interns and end this-"
"You do that, and I'll tell them you can see," she whispered, leaning forward.
"Don't be absurd. The acid destroyed my-"
"You don't need eyes to see, anymore," she pressed: "I can feel your eyes watching me now, from the shadows. And I know what's looking through them, too."
"You wouldn't dare tell them," the patient said: "They'd think you were mad."
"I'd tell them, and I'd prove it to them, too," Rachel smirked.
"So call me on it," she said: "Maybe you can ask your little voice for advice…?"
The man was silent, then. His mouth quivered with what could only be highly-controlled rage.
"So… if we're done with all that?" she replied: "I have some questions I want you to answer, sir. And I know enough about what's going on to tell if you're lying or holding back. I'll ask you some questions, you'll give me complete answers. And then I'll go and leave you to your dirty little secrets."
"What do I get for cooperating?" he asked, the rage going back under the surface.
"You get to keep your cards," she said.
"That's… not very generous of you."
"Yeah, well, I don't feel like playing Santa Claus, today, pal. You can bribe someone else for a fucking chess set. Maybe your God'll bring one around for you?"
The mouth went sour again.
"So…" Rachel said, smiling as she leaned just a little bit closer: "You wanna play your way out of your corner, or are you just gonna sit there and take it like a chump?"
Chicago, July 29th, 1:00 pm
"I can't believe I'm fucking hearing this" Detective Anders groused.
"You can believe what you like," Chief Hardesty said, putting both hands on his desk: "Quite frankly, Detective… I really don't give a fuck."
They were having this conversation in Hardesty's office, with the door closed. A few doors down, Lt. Henry Wu was having his impromptu - and rather noisy - welcoming party.
Anders had been most pointedly told he wasn't welcome after what he'd said to Wu this morning. In fact, there were Internal Affairs charges in the works. And that was the reason for this meeting between him and the Chief.
"I busted my ass… you know I've busted my ass-"
"Everyone does. That's no reason to give you anything special."
"But I busted my ass on this case!" Anders insisted, almost leaping out of his chair.
"Busting more than a few rules while you were at it."
"Everyone does…" Anders shot back, almost childishly.
"Yeah. But you got caught."
"I did what I did in order to safeguard Meyer's life-"
"Bullshit," Hardesty said, giving him the cold smolder: "You did it in order to hog the limelight."
"That's not true…"
"And you did that because you got pissed at Meyer over a stupid crime scene argument."
"That's… that is not true, sir. I swear-"
"That's not what the Tac Squad's Sgt. tells me," Hardesty said, shrugging.
Anders' face fell: "But he… he went along with it… He agreed"
Hardesty smiled: "Did he, now?"
It was the first time Anders had ever seen the man smile, teeth and all. It was ample explanation as to why he never smiled that wide all that often: ugly as fucking sin, with rotten teeth and yellowed stumps.
"I think you really need to have a little talk with Internal Affairs, Anders," the Chief said: "In the meantime, between selling out your former superior officer, and using racial slurs at your new one, you can consider yourself suspended without pay."
"I'll take your gun and your badge, please," the Chief said, standing up behind his desk and holding out a hand.
"But…" Anders stammered.
"Don't make me have to have them taken from you, Anders," Hardesty said: "At least show a little dignity, here."
"What the fuck… what the fuck would you know about dignity?" Anders screamed, jumping to his feet: "What about me? Huh? What about me?"
"What about you?" the Chief muttered: "I had to bounce one of the best people I've ever worked with off the force this morning because folks on high decided this mess needed someone to pin it on. I ought to be used to it by now. This is Chicago. But I still don't feel very forgiving today… and I sure as hell don't feel like wasting that forgiveness on you."
"But…" Anders stammered again.
"No buts. There's a party next door I want to go to. I want to be seen to give face time to a good kid who's gonna need a whole hell of a lot of support while we fix what's broken, here. And you're part of what's broken, Anders.
"So you give me that gun and that badge, or I swear I'll kick your ass out the window and take them from what's left of-"
If the Chief had been carrying at that moment, he might have been able to defend himself. He wasn't, though, and Anders drew his gun and fired three bullets at Hardesty's skull.
All of the shots were prizewinners - right in the forehead. The Chief's head shattered at the back like a burst plastic jug. Streamers of blood, bone and brain flew out and spattered the now-retired pinboard of the Full Moon Killer's movements.
The man's corpse stood there for a full two seconds, and then slumped back into his chair. His eyes were still fixed on Anders, though. And the hate in them was a tangible, heavy thing.
Anders hesitated for just a moment - amazed that he'd actually done it, after all - and then ran from the office, cradling his gun in his hands. Halfway down the stairs he had the good sense to put his gun away, slow down, and walk out from behind the front desk rather than the vehicle pool, where someone might ask what he was doing.
Everyone was at the party. No one there heard anything.
It was a full hour before anyone realized Chief Hardesty was dead.
It was another hour after that before an APB was put out for former Detective Anders.
And no one ever bothered asking the Desk Sgt. why he let Anders leave without checking to make sure he'd handed over his gun and badge.
It was Chicago, after all.
Chicago, July 29th, 1:30 pm
"Where did you learn to pop a lock like that?" Meyer asked as they looked around Trebuchet's hotel room.
"Girl Scouts," Tiana replied, sighing.
"You were in Girl Scouts?"
"Yeah. About a year."
"You get your Needle in a Haystack Merit Badge?" He chuckled.
"No. But I did help my Troop Leader boost cars for a fund raiser."
Meyer just looked at her: "You're shitting me."
"You were in that Troop?"
"What is this? Tell the guy everything now that he can't arrest you?"
"I told you everything already, Frank. I think that's kind of small potatoes…?"
It was, in a way. Meyer had taken the news that he'd been fooled fairly well. He'd already figured something weird was up after his argument with Trebuchet: finding out they were there to determine if Willers "had it" or not, and Trebuchet's tracking down the Killer with him, was something of a relief. Weird as it all sounded, at least it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
The only time Frank had gotten upset was when he ran into one of the brick walls Tiana put up: he wanted to know who'd sent them, and she wouldn't tell him.
***"I think I at least deserve to know," he said: "I mean, Jesus, Denice… I just lost my fucking job-"
"I can't tell you, hon," she said, simply: "I tol' you. There's Federal, and then there's more than Federal."
"What. The United Fucking Nations?"
"No…" she sighed: "Look, Frank. I know the words 'trust me' sound really fucked up coming from my mouth, right now. But can you at least trust me when I say that…."
She paused: Would she have told him, even if she had clearance?
Her whole life had been fucked up beyond all recognition the moment she stepped into that basement, all those years ago. Having things "explained" by Tiamat hadn't been much comfort, either. There were days that she wished she could just tear her memories out of her brain, and then go somewhere else to start her life all over again: free from the horrors, the flashbacks and the pain.
She liked Frank. He was her friend. And she wouldn't have wished this kind of private hell on her worst enemy…
"If you could tell me, you would tell me," Frank finished her sentence: "Is that about the size of it?"
She nodded, too tired to complicate this any further by telling the truth.
"Okay," he said: "I can deal with it."
"You can?" She asked.
"Yeah. I've had to deal with that shit before. We had the FBI and a couple other groups of Feds in town after 9/11. They told me the same shit, and it pissed me off. I felt like someone'd cut off my balls.
"But then they nabbed a couple of people who were planning to bring down something else, right here in town."
Tiana blinked: "They did?"
"Yeah. They did. I dunno who and I dunno what. All I know is that one day the Chief came up and told me that the Feds were gone, and they had prisoners and evidence - evidence as in enough homemade plastic explosive do some real damage to something really important."
"I never heard anything about that."
"Exactly. They kept the whole thing quiet. I don't know if it's ever made news, anywhere. But they saved a lot of people and saved a lot of panic, keeping quiet."
She nodded: "This is like that, Frank."
"Okay…" he said: "Then I trust you."***
"So what would your man have left to let us know where he was going?" Meyer asked.
"He'd have called," she said: "He ain't much for leaving notes."
"He ain't much for important details, either," Meyer noted, parting the curtain a little so he could look at the cops they'd had to dodge, still guarding the coffee-shop crime scene: "You'd think walking out the door to a mess like that would have prompted a 'by the way'?"
"Not when he's locked down on something," she said: "He's tight as jeans when he's into it."
"Yeah," he said, letting the curtain slide back into place: "Kind of weird, though. You'd think he'd have at least gone in for some coffee or something."
She nodded: "Yeah. That is weird."
"And he only called you once, right?" Meyer asked: "When we were driving here?"
"Yeah. Just to say he and Bob were out looking for the killer, but he didn't say where. He'd call when he had the killer."
"Well, we sure beat him to that," Meyer said: "As far as everyone else thinks, anyway."
"And I told you, I don't think so," she said, sighing and sitting down in a chair. The casefile was on the table, nearby.
"I agree. That was too fucking easy."
"Way too fucking easy," she agreed: "Six months of being invisible and then being way too visible. Doesn't fit."
"Exactly. But what the hell was that crazy bitch doing, then?" Meyer asked, looking at Tiana.
"I think she wanted to die," Tiana said: "She went into that knowing she wasn't getting out of it."
"Maybe this was a distraction?" Frank asked: "Get us looking the other way? We're all converging on one point while something else happens somewhere else."
"So she'd have had to have known the killer," Tiana said.
"Yeah," Meyer replied: "And the fact that she was carving the face off some poor church lady less than a hundred yards from this room… that kind of makes you wonder?"
She looked at him: "Maybe we could get a look at her place?"
Meyer shook his head: "It's gonna be crawling with cops, hon. I couldn't get in there."
He chuckled: "What, you gonna turn invisible?"
She smirked: "Don't tell no one, now."
"Naah," he said: "I think that's not gonna work."
"So we'll just have to find the real killer," she said, patting the case file: "Which means we gotta figure out where they went without having Willers sniff him out for us."
Meyer sighed: "I've been over that damn thing for six months, hon. It's been picked clean down to the bone."
"Well, I hope you hungry," she said, taking it and opening it up: "'Cause we got a lot of shit to go through, here."
Chicago, July 29th, 2:00 pm
Trebuchet looked over at Willers as he tipped over yet another box of mason jars. Something inside clinked too hard and cracked, and the air was filled with a nasty smell, all over again.
Willers had been at this for some time, now. In fact, it was the sound and the smell that had brought Trebuchet out of the dreams and hallucinations. He'd fallen under just as the Man-Boy had disappeared, screaming his way down into Oblivion. And now, he was awake again.
Nothing had changed, save that it was now probably some time in the afternoon - judging on the light outside - and the Man-Boy was still gone. Willers was still wearing that ridiculous body stocking and construction hat, which made his movements all the more grotesque as he went digging through the mason jars.
The box he was working on didn't have what he was looking for, either, and the Full Moon Killer sighed and tossed it to the side. Several somethings inside it crashed, and the reek hit Trebuchet's nostrils all over again. It was like being lightly misted with warm sewer water.
"You know… you could have just called the city… had your plumbing turned back on," Trebuchet said, weakly.
"Shut up," Willers said, calm as a breeze. Then he smacked Trebuchet across the jaw. Something inside his mouth popped and broke, and a stream of blood flowed between his lips.
"I'm looking for something important," the Killer said, his voice still calm, stockinged face less than an inch from Trebuchet's: "Something essential. I lost it. I need to find it. Something important."
Trebuchet wanted to ask if it was his mind, but he decided not to. This wasn't some movie where the good guy got to taunt the bad guy and eventually got the better of him. He was dealing with a madman, here: one whose emotions weren't known to him…
He cursed at himself, quietly. Why? Why had he been so stupid? So blind?
He should have seen this coming. He should have known. Just like with Brian. He should have known.
And now, he'd be lucky if he got out of this one alive…
"Oh, you will," a familiar voice purred in Trebuchet's ear: "I wouldn't have anything happen to you, darling."
The Man-Boy appeared, stepping out of a patch of darkness. Trebuchet sucked in a breath and tried to get away, but the joystraps were as tight as ever and his shoulder was still a mesh of fire and soreness. He wasn't going anywhere.
He was just as bad as Trebuchet remembered from his half-dreams and waking nightmares, and here he was before him, solid and real. The pale skin, the bullet hole, the disgusting film over the eyes… everything.
"Why are you scared of me?" the thing asked, a fresh line of bloody drool falling from his lip and dripping down towards his chest.
"Go to hell," Trebuchet said, trying to swallow his blood to keep from making a mess. He would not be debased before this creature. He swore himself that victory, at least…
Brian just smiled and stepped closer, putting his hands on Trebuchet's cheeks: "Only if I can go there with you."
"You found that adorable, once."
"When I felt sorry for you," Trebuchet said: "Before I knew what you really were…"
"And what am I?" the Man-Boy asked, leaning just a little closer: "Other than the man who really loves you?"
"You're a murderer!" Trebuchet screamed, thinking
*of course I killed her, Jonathan," Brian said, running his manicured hands along what was left of her forehead, brushing the wet, pulpy maggots aside as he did: "You didn't think I was going to come out here every day and feed her, did you? That would have been suspicious*
of her. His sister. The woman he'd murdered.
"Oh, please," Brian said: "Don't be too worried about that. I know how it looks… but she was already dead when I found her."
"No. No. You… you killed her… you did it. We proved it-"
"Oh. Well, yes. I did stop her heart from beating, if you want to be technical about it."
"But I didn't kill her, darling. No. Daddy beat me to that a long, long time ago."
"Shut up!" Trebuchet yelled, trying to break free of the joystraps again: "Just shut… up…"
"It happened when she was ten," the Man-Boy went on, curving around so he could speak right into Trebuchet's right ear: "Her and Daddy went away for a quiet weekend. Family matters, Mommy said. She never noticed a thing. But then, she never did. The tranquilizers took care of that.
"But I wasn't on them," it said, curving back around and looking Trebuchet in the eyes: "And I did notice."
Trebuchet just looked at him. It was all he could do with the thing's hands pressing on his cheeks.
"It was like someone just turned out a light in my sister's head," the thing went on, mouth coming ever closer to his mouth: "Her eyes were like empty windows, and nothing meaningful ever came out of her mouth… except maybe when Daddy withdrew…"
"Fuck you…" Trebuchet said, sickened by the smile on the Man-Boy's face.
"That's funny… that's just what she said," Brian smiled: "It was her way of saying thanks, I think. That's how badly Daddy fucked her up. Daddy's little darling went away a little girl… and came back a little, broken thing. I was just making the outside match the inside, Jonathan. That's all."
"You killed her… for ransom money."
"Oh, please. I would have killed her for a decent butterfly collection, if I thought someone would believe it," Brian said: "I didn't want the money, Jonathan. I didn't need it. I was well off, looked after, cared for… though from afar. And I was happy to be far away from those people and their boring sadness."
The Man-Boy smiled: "Because someone was kind enough to show me how things really worked, Johnathan. Daddy opened a crack in the door for me, but my friend… he opened it all the way. And I saw. And I knew."
Trebuchet stiffened: "Knew what?"
"How transformation works, darling," Brian said: "A bell's just a cup 'till it's remade and struck. That's what I'm doing here, Johnathan. Remaking you."
"Because I love you," the man-boy replied, holding Trebuchet's head in his hands and kissing him full on the mouth: "Because I want to set you free-"
There was a blur of motion in the room: Willers turned faster than Trebuchet thought he should be able to, and tossed a mason jar at the Man-Boy. It went right through him - as though he were nothing more than a column of smoke - and crashed on the opposite wall. The air was filled with the smell of shit, again.
"Don't do that," Willers said: "No. The Vessel stays pure. Until tonight. Pure."
"He's hardly pure," Brian smirked, licking his lips.
"Not like that. You know. Pure. You know."
"Yes, I do-"
"You know." Willers insisted.
The Man-Boy looked at Willers. For a moment, the smirk was in danger of becoming something a lot less amusing…
"Sleep, love," he said to Trebuchet, putting a hand on the captive's forehead: "Dream. You'll need your strength tonight."
Trebuchet didn't even try to struggle. He just wanted to go under again. To go away from here. From him. From all of this.
His eyelids fluttered, and then he was back in Nantucket, trying to eat dinner while Brian worked his foot in and out of the cuff of his pants.
"We shouldn't argue in front of him," the Man-Boy told the Killer: "He's confused enough as it is."
"Don't scare me," Willers said, walking around the dead man to look at another box: "You don't. Not anymore."
"That's because I'm not trying," Man-boy replied, turning and following after: "You're going to need my help for the final phase of the plan."
"I won't. No."
"Yes, you will. You don't know what you're up against."
"Yes," the Killer replied, opening the box and rooting through it.
"And how do you know that?"
"I know," the Killer replied, turning and staring at the Man-Boy: "Same way I know I can make you leave. If want to. Yes. Make you leave."
"Yes. I know. And I know. You can't make me do anything. I don't want to. I don't. I do. Yes."
The Man-Boy smirked: "And why is that?"
"The Moon is on my side, now," he whispered, cocking his head and looking up at a spot in the ceiling, feeling the Lunar pull behind it: "Whispers secrets to me. Makes me stronger. Yes. More confident. More powerful."
The Man-Boy snorted: "That and two tablets of-"
"Shut up!" The Killer screamed, turning back to fix the Man-Boy with a freezing glare. Man-Boy's form became misty at the edges, as though he were a cloud of steam coming undone in a strong breeze. He shuddered, stepping backwards…
"Moon," the Killer went on, staring the Man-Boy in the eyes: "The guardian of secrets. The House of Mystery. The eye of the ancient aeon, staring down. Staring at us. Little ant-lives, crawling in dirt. Like ants."
"You're not listening-" Brian tried to protest, bringing his form back together.
"You're the one. You're not listening. Fool. Thought you could find the truth in a book? Fool. The real book… the real source … staring down at you. The whole time. Staring down.
"We. We who make bargains. We discover the truth. The truth is what sets us free. Not you. Not your perversion. Truth.
"Don't need your help," Willers went on: "Don't need your advice. Don't need your presence. Don't. Need. You."
With that, Willers turned right back around and started rooting through the box again, as though nothing had just happened. The Man-Boy looked at the Killer, shaking his head but saying nothing more.
And then Brian froze, and cocked his head at a strange angle. It was as though he were seeing something, in the dark corner of the room. Hearing something.
"Meddling fool…" he muttered.
"What?" Willers asked.
"Our enemies are moving once more," the Man-Boy said, not turning to look in the Killer's direction.
"It's too soon. Not yet. Too soon-"
"Not those two, Robert," Brian replied: "Someone else. Someone a little more… difficult."
"I don't have time," Willers spat: "No time. Important? You. You deal with it. I need to prepare. Prepare the Vessel."
"Oh, I am…" the Man-Boy replied, smiling darkly as he stared off into the blackness: "Have no fear, little servant of the Moon. I've got it all under control."