Highway 95 had taken him right into the heart of Yuma in the dead of night. He’d taken a pass back and forth in front of Kershaw’s wide two-story home, replete with a well-landscaped yard and short, decorative wrought-iron fence. He felt he could have gotten in around back if he tried, but that tactic was still too high-risk. The best course was still to lie in wait.
The golf course was a short way down the block. Kershaw’s home was on the eastern end. The west end wrapped around the waterfront, hugging a river. A road paved in hand-lain red brick led around the length of the course. Between the river and property, D’Shane found a series of diagonal parking spots facing the greens. No other cars were parked here, so he couldn’t bide time in that location for long—too suspicious, and the popo would surely be patrolling this rich-ass neighborhood like clockwork on the hour. However, this might have been the perfect location to make his play. The jogging path sat right in front of the Mercedes.
In the meantime, he kept on the move. He avoided gas stations, wanting to keep the car off any outside cameras. Further down the river was a small dock area. He parked there for thirty minutes, nervously scanning the area. The he moved again. There was a grocery store that he parked on the peripheral of, near the street, for almost forty-five minutes. There he tried the radio, but Yuma had little to offer in the way of rap.
His longest stop was a desert camping grounds site just south of the city. Other cars were sparsely parked here, though assumingly the owners had hiked out into the sands a ways. After sitting in silence below the prominent stars for a while, he picked up the baton. He tapped it gently against his palm. D’Shane remembered what he’d been told, that this was the man’s granddaughter’s, and now he was hypothesizing a more clear scenario. He was being tested. Maristus Nore wanted to know if he was still the cold-blooded hood who nearly beat another kid to death because he had jacked D’Shane’s brand new sneakers in gym class. Bergman and that…thing, whatever it was, wanted to see if he could dial up that rage when needed. Otherwise, they’d have asked him to simply cap the old fool and ditch everything at some predetermined location. That meant they had some other shit planned.
There were plenty of empty hours left to wonder other things, too. How many bangers out there were actually marching under the banner of Maristus Nore—‘Brutality Incarnate?’
At four in the morning, he was losing the battle for consciousness. He had stepped out for a while and walked around in the cool night air. Back in the Mercedes, he dug in the glove compartment just to keep his mind engaged in something. From under the glock, he produced a small clear baggy of a white substance. D’Shane didn’t even have to open it, just pressed into the texture of the material to know it was coke. Performance enhancing drugs. D’Shane didn’t dabble in heavier shit than weed on the simple fact that he was too savvy for those traps. He tossed the baggy back into the glove compartment. He was sure now that he’d been thrown into a pass-or-fail situation.
He took some time with the gun then. It was already loaded with a full clip. No serial number, as if it had been manufactured without one. There were two more clips in the glove compartment. Why? He wasn’t even supposed to be using the gun at all, but they’d given him enough ammo to put up resistance in a shoot-out. He presumed this was in case he couldn’t break away cleanly, and had to tangle with the local P.D. He hoped that wasn’t the idea. In a way, he hoped Kershaw had some hired help who would be packing. That made him more likely to be a ‘bad guy’ in D’Shane’s head, which in turn made it easier to bash his skull in with a plastic glitter stick.
At six-thirty he was parked back at the course in his selected spot. There were a few more vehicles there too, now, which made it easier for him to sit and wait undetected. Now he was seeing the point in having him use the Mercedes. There wasn’t a car under thirty-five thousand parked along the course. At six-forty, a patrol car leisurely passed along the road behind him, not slowing at all. He felt confident he fit in, at least while he was in the car (he was beginning to wonder if Bergman and his liege had also planned for him to be wearing formal clothes, too). He kept his eyes trained down the jogging path in either direction as the sun rose sharply in front of him. He found shades clipped to the visor above him, and donned them. Oakleys, of course.
A woman in her late forties surgically enhanced to look in her early thirties walked her two corgies in front of him. A duo of guys wheeled bags of clubs from right to left. A cart rolled into view on the other side of the fence, and a groundskeeper got out to pick several pieces of detritus up from the green.
At seven-oh-four, an older gentleman with deep grey hair and a neat broom of a moustache came walking briskly from his left. Sweat stained the front of his sage t-shirt. D’Shane consulted the picture to his left. Grey hair, grey moustache. Slightly more coif in the picture. Blue eyes in the picture. D’Shane checked—blue eyes on the guy coming up. It had to be Kershaw. He let the man pass the hood, opened the door, and tucked the piece into the back of his pants as he got out.
He casually looked around. No eyes. Groundskeeper cart was in view, but way too far to see detail.
“Lloyd!” he called. The man turned around expectantly. The young black man with the big smile approached him with enthusiasm. D’Shane extended his hand as he walked briskly toward Kershaw.
“Do you remember me?” the young man asked. “I was a lot younger the last time we met.”
Kershaw grinned as he took the hand. “Ah, no, no, I don’t think I do, I’m sorry.”
“You sold my folks’ home up on the north part of the waterfront, like, ten years ago?” D’Shane tried.
Kershaw looked skeptical. He pulled his hand away. “I only did commercial real estate—“
Once the hand slipped away from his, D’Shane slid the glock out from his back and stuck the barrel in the old man’s gut. “Get in that black car behind me.”
“Who sent you?” the old man asked. An expression of annoyed anger came over the gregarious façade.
“Get in that fucking car motherfucker before I fucking—“
“Alright, alright,” Kershaw nodded. He walked calmly alongside the young man, who slid the gun temporarily behind his back. Kerhsaw opened the passenger side door. D’Shane entered, and threw the contents of the passenger seat to the floor. Kershaw ducked in. He instantly eyed the baton on the floor.
“Where the hell did you get that?”
“Shut the fuck up,” D’Shane advised, throwing the Benz into reverse. The gun lied across his lap in his left hand, still aimed in the general direction of the retired real estate agent.
“You’re a nigger, not a Mexican. So you’re not cartel,” Kershaw deduced.
Ah yeah, keep making this shit easier, D’Shane thought. He headed south towards the small docks he’d hit up during the night.
“Well what do you want?” the old guy asked. When the driver didn’t answer, he kept pressing for an answer. “Are you just some small-time hood wanting drug money? We can end this real fast if that’s the case, friend.”
No suspicion seemed to have been raised. He checked his rear view mirror. Everything appeared okay.
“Come on then, tell me what you’re after!” Kershaw implored.
“I’ll let you know when we stop,” D’Shane told him.
“How did you get that baton? That’s my Rina’s. That’s my nine year-old granddaughter’s baton. Did you do something to Rina?”
It hit D’Shane that he had no idea if Rina was okay, that he hadn’t a clue what the outfit he was working for had done to procure the toy. He couldn’t afford to contemplate it. He pushed this out of his mind, and tried focusing on his objective. Once he was at the docks, and they were still vacant, he could smash the old racist’s face in and be on his merry way.
A text came in. The message was from Erikka’s phone.
“Hit ‘read’, Kershaw,” he ordered the old man, motioning the gun toward the phone on the dash. Lloyd peered at the phone anxiously. A nervous old finger hesitantly opened the message.
You have 10 minutes to kill him.
Kershaw and D’Shane read the message at the same time. Their eyes met, D’Shane’s still appearing calculating, and Kershaw’s a cross between outraged and terrified. Shit. D’Shane let go of the wheel for a moment to land a crossing punch across the old guy’s face. He hadn’t seen it coming, and looked staggered. The driver switched the gun to his other hand, and landed a pistol whip to the forehead. Lloyd Kershaw’s head slumped against the passenger side window, a stream of blood beginning to emanate from above his left eye.
“Shit,” the young man whispered to himself. He checked the rear view again. This time, things were not kosher. There was something coming up on him fast, even as he accelerated.
It looked like a pair of horses at a cursory glance. But they were way too fast to be catching up with a Mercedes doing eighty. Not only that, but they looked hollow, incomplete. He could see through parts of them, straight through to the street behind them. Whatever they were, they were gaining. D’Shane pushed the V8 harder. The commute traffic wasn’t heavy at all on along the river, but a sign warned that sharp curve ahead should probably be taken at 25.
There was no way he’d get below seventy in time.
Only once before in his life had D’Shane used the emergency brake on a car, and that was because he was parked at an incline one evening while he was passing off a baggie of oxies to an older white guy (not unlike his passenger) living in the hills. He’d seen it used hypothetically in movies to pull off insane one-eighty turns in the middle of chase sequences. That shit was practical effects, right? Not computer-generated stuff. That could really happen. It could.
When he clicked down the emergency brake button and locked the lever forward while yanking the wheel to a hard left, the Mercedes did not spin 180 degrees. The tires squealed, the body turned almost sideways in the road, and the car came to a screeching halt at the start of the curve. D’Shane’s stomach felt like it was briefly displaced outside of his body, and Kershaw’s head popped against the window. The horses didn’t stop. D’Shane exclaimed with a flinch. Their legs and torsos impacted the side of the car with a rocking clank.
No glass had broken. The bodies of the beasts rolled over the top of the car. They landed off the road, in a shallow ditch up against a thin median of Yew trees. As D’Shane stared off at the writhing black masses lying on their sides, Kershaw came to.
“Hail the Onyx Thane!” Kershaw slurred loudly. “Hail the Blackened Strangulation! Hail!”
Adrenaline commanded the young man’s next actions. He grabbed the baton from the passenger floorboard. The old guy tried to take it from him, but he had no chance of wrestling it away. D’Shane slammed his balled right fist square into Kershaw’s nose. This uncorked a cascade of blood that stickied D’Shane’s hand. He reeled it back, and with the plastic butt of the baton, began crashing the tassels repeatedly into the old grey head. Within the first few blows, the plastic had already spit and broken. There was a tell-tale muffled cracking sound that came from the passenger’s head, but D’Shane was going to need to do more than that. A lot more.
Outside the passenger window, he noticed as he acted, the horses were getting up. But they weren’t horses anymore. They were long, broad strands of black material lacing themselves together in something else. It was a singular something else, with six legs that stood probably four times the height of the Benz. An oval amassment of the strands gathered suspended from the pillar-like appendages. It began to split open, revealing a soft green glow within that pulsed light a heartbeat.
D’Shane disengaged the parking brake and gunned the Benz back in the opposite direction.
There was a lot about Pratt Glasser that Melanie found creepy. For one, he looked like some old famous guy Mom liked named David Bowie, who Melanie also found unappealing. His hair was relatively short and spiked, and strangely almost a platinum blonde. His eyes were far apart and narrow, and an intense blue, which always made him look evil (especially when he smiled). He was tall, just too tall for her liking, and too fit for a guy with that wrinkly of a face. His voice was somewhat high and articulate, which made her wonder if she’d be more likely to see him with a male partner than a wife one day (she’d hadn’t seen him on intimate terms with anyone, ever).
She really didn’t care for the way he always referenced her dad. Even she could see that he’d do it simply to convince Mom of his way. “You have to ask yourself, is this what Paul would do?” was his favorite refrain. Pratt held her dad out like an impossibly-reached yardstick over her mother’s head, slapping the wall above her and imploring her to give a little more each time she vied to meet the deceased Paul Perigard’s assumed expectations. Supposedly, they’d been friends, Pratt and her dad. She didn’t remember them acting the part in the vague memories she had of her father.
Pratt lived in an old farmhouse that had been meticulously restored over the years. It was white and two-storied, and reminded Melanie of her grandpa’s. Except this house felt fake, just like its owner. It was a façade, simply for show. The interior was set up more like a walk-through museum than a home, with recessed mahogany shelving built into the walls to display all manner of Pratt’s proud artifacts related to his servitude to Aggivaius Pinn. The home served as some strange mirror to its owner.
And now, after hurriedly ransacking (more accurate a term than packing, Melanie found) their own home, here the trio of Perigards were, winding up the gravel road that ran through a field that sometimes exploded with wildflowers (today was tame, as it supported only high but occasionally kempt grass and drought-afflicted sunflowers) to reach Pratt Glasser’s farmhouse restoration.
One mile southeast of here was what Melanie found to be a darker, more disquieting place: the hangar.
“I need to pee,” Violet announced on Pratt’s covered front porch seconds after her mother knocked on the royal blue-trimmed door.
“You should have peed when we were at home,” Rebecca said under her breath.
“We were going so fast!” Violet protested.
Pratt opened the door, smiling his smile that shot waves of shuddering briefly through Melanie’s body.
“Come in, gals!” he said in his distinct tone. Melanie found it laced with cheer, yet oh-so controlled.
“Pratt, um, Violet needs to use the restroom,” Rebecca informed him.
“Look, it’s straight through those doors and at the end of the hall on the right,” he instructed Violet helpingly as he leaned over toward her. Violet nervously walked to the finely carved mahogany doors before them in the small parlor flanked by twin rustic staircases, and fidgeted one of the black knobs open with the restless certainty of a bladder in distress. As she opened the door, Melanie glimpsed the pseudo-museum in the great room on the other side.
Melanie’s mind returned to the conversation with her mother this morning, the one about the Demonicae being real. And there, suddenly no longer odd eccentric junk but a testament to times that may yet return, was Pratt Glasser’s prized collection of relics. The girl was reminded of a story she’d had to read just this past school year, a dense literary piece with no vampires, werewolves, or zombies to speak of, written by a reclusive guy by the name of Lovecraft whom her English teacher had made out to be just as weird as Pratt. From what she’d gathered from the narrative, the main character was extremely concerned about losing his grip on the real world. It was the last character Melanie wanted to identify with, but she now disturbingly found herself totally seeing where he was coming from.
“Becca, I have more questions for you,” Pratt said. “Come, come.”
The pair followed their host through the double doors. He paced the display room as he talked, allowing Melanie time to re-examine everything within with new eyes. The items all sat on pedestals or hung from the white walls, with pendant spotlights hanging over each from the fourteen-foot ceiling.
“Thank you for taking us in, Pratt,” Rebecca worked in before he began, knowing that he could sometimes get lost in a rant once it started.
“Oh, of course!” the tall blonde man said with a carefully placed hand of consolation on her shoulder. “I’ve told you before that if anything like this should ever happen, you know, you could come here.”
“Thankfully,” she responded with a kind smile.
“Now, Becca: how big was this trail in your father’s field?” he pursued.
Rebecca was a middle school teacher for six years now, and she had a learned command of most situations having to deal with the evolving and impatient minds of her classroom. Whenever she talked with Pratt, she always fell into an opposite role, and she watched herself do it every time. Once again, she felt like the unprepared student who was called on and asked to speak up on a topic she hadn’t studied the night before.
“Um, I don’t know, it…” She held her hands out, conceptualizing width and length in relativity to a vast swath of land as best she could. “It was broader than your typical residential street. Maybe the size of a two-lane on both sides, maybe a little bigger?”
“How long?” Pratt pressed further, his eyes seizing in compelled curiosity.
“Maybe two, two and a half football fields?” she answered.
“And you’ve ruled out any other known cause for this?”
“I…” she stuttered. “Pratt, I don’t know. I don’t know of anything that could have done something like that.”
“How deep was it?” he continued.
“I didn’t check,” she admitted.
“I just wanted to get out of there, Pratt. I’m the bloodfoster of a rival Demonicus, and here this thing was plowing up in my father’s field overnight while I slept. Does that sound like a comfortable situation?”
“You know Orroman Gyr can’t hurt you,” he cited.
“Supposedly,” she said. “But there are always others to do it for him.”
The drizzle had evolved into a downpour in western Arkansas. It had started a dozen miles past Little Rock before the raindrops had gained in heaviness and frequency. The driver tried to keep his attention forward on the interstate, but it was being pulled to the side.
Simon watched his passenger in critical fascination. She had opened the stick of gum he’d offered in a normal fashion, and then things got weird. When she licked her lips, then smeared the gum around them before popping it in her mouth, he was compelled to gather more information on this behavior.
“What?” she asked as she chewed.
“Why did you do that?” he inquired.
“The thing with your lips. You like, rubbed the gum on your lips…”
“Oh,” she nodded. “Makes it taste better.”
His brow furrowed for hundredth time in twenty-four hours.
“How? How do you even get bored enough to figure that out?” he asked, finding himself truly vexed by this eccentricity.
“That sign had my name on it!” she exclaimed.
“What?” He blinked back into the rainfall ahead.
“There was a guy holding a big white sign on the side of the road just now! It had my name on it!”
He met her wild eyes temporarily, leaden with conviction.
“No, I saw it!” she pushed, grabbing onto his shoulder.
She pulled her hand away. “Simon, please. It was there, I really saw it. Please turn around, okay?”
She was decompensating before his eyes. He knew it. He knew this entire insane endeavor would derail way sooner than later. Then the whispers came again, and all over again his notions of what the hell was going on were tossed on their heads.
At first, she looked at him to test his reaction. He looked up and away. Yes, he’d heard them, too.
“Turn around,” she insisted. “Please. I want to know why some guy was holding up a sign with my name on it in the middle of Arkansas.”
“Sam…it’s raining. How do you know for sure it was your name?”
“You heard the whispers again, just now, right?”
He said nothing for a moment. Then, he merged into the left lane.
“Simon…” she started. They were turning in a ‘U’ at a crossover in the interstate. The passenger leaned toward the driver as she peered through the wet downcast.
“You don’t seem as disturbed by the fact that we’re hearing whispers from thin air as I am,” he commented.
“Look, look! Slow down!” she demanded. He let off the gas as they passed the man in the big brown raincoat again. He was indeed holding a large white sign turned toward them, which even through the rain, Simon read, spelled out in bold black letters SAMANTHA CASS.
“Is that him?” Simon posed. “The Man in the Road?”
She started to shake her head cautiously. “No…I didn’t see a beard… I think this is just a person.”
“A person who knows your name and that you’d be heading west out of Arkansas via this particular interstate.”
“Yeah, that kind, I guess. Get to the other side!”
“I am, geez, patience, girl,” he told her. They hit another opportunity for a ‘U’ turn, and Simon slowed in the right lane as they approached the figure. It was still vigilantly upholding the sign.
The car pulled off onto the shoulder and parked. Simon killed the lights and engine. The duo watched the figure ahead of them lower the sign to rest on the asphalt. The pair exchanged glances, but kept their eyes on the figure. It did appear to be just a normal guy in the raincoat. The guy walked toward the car.
“Shit. He might have a gun,” Simon worried.
“I don’t think so,” Sam said.
“The hell does he want, you think?” Simon asked, not really expecting Sam to have any idea, either.
The man ducked his head in front of the passenger side window. Sam flinched back some. His hand rapped twice.
Putting the key back in the ignition just to turn the battery on, Simon rolled Sam’s window from his side. They were met by a rather round white face bearing an excited smile. It was a young guy, maybe in his mid to late twenties.
“Hi!” he greeted.
Both occupants simply nodded nervously before Simon answered. “Hi.”
“I was looking for Samantha Cass…?” the guy in the raincoat threw out, fishing to see if he’d reeled in the right car, Simon figured.
“I’m Samantha Cass,” the passenger said. Raincoat guy jumped away from the window. The pair in the car jumped, too.
“What? What do you want, man?” Simon raised his voice.
Raincoat guy edged a little closer once more. “You’re Samantha Cass?”
“Why the hell do people keep asking me that?”
He eyed Simon next, who gave him a doubtful glare.
“Who are you?” he inquired of the therapist.
“I’m her agent.”
The redheaded man cocked his head. “Really?”
“…No,” Simon clarified. “Your turn, dude. Who are you? And how do you know her name?”
“My name’s Lance!” Raincoat guy offered cheerfully. “Um, hold on.”
Lance stared towards the inside of the windshield for a moment, his smile dropping and his expression appearing to be one of listening.
“He’s responding to internal stimuli,” Simon tried to whisper to Sam.
“What?” she whispered back.
“He’s crazy,” he mumbled quickly.
“Uh, okay,” Lance started again, re-engaging with the moment. “I can’t tell you right now how I know your name.”
“Okay…” Sam sneered. “How about telling me what you want with me?”
“Yeah, that I can say. He needs to speak with you. He says you’ve probably already heard him talking to you. Only I can understand him, though.”
“The whispers,” Sam said, looking at Simon.
“Who is ‘he’?” Simon asked Lance.
“Oh, He Who Was Damned By Knowledge And Etched In Failure, the Demonicus Savidans Ridd.”
Simon nodded. “You know what? I think I saw that friend request on my Facebook last week.”
Lance took a very serious air. “Really?”
“No. Look, Lance, where can we find this guy?” Simon asked.
“I’m supposed to take you to him,” their new acquaintance explained.
“Where’s your car?” Sam asked, staring forward on the side of the road.
“Oh, I walked.” After a moment, Lance screwed his face in thought, then inquired, “Can I have a ride?”
The therapist inhaled, exhaled. “Do you need your sign?”
The younger guy glanced back at the shoulder, and after some more thought, decided, “Nah.”
“Sure, Lance, what the hell.”