Saturday, August 19, 2017

In the Mirror, Part Three

Kate wasn’t waiting in the lobby. We took the elevator to the 11th floor and knocked on the door.
            Mitch looked like we wanted to punch me. “What the hell happened?”
            In the living room Kate was dumping books into a box. “Tomorrow. Or the next day. We’re out of here.”
            “Give me a minute.” I pulled Rachel into the nearest bathroom.
            “I hate dogs.” She perched on the toilet lid. “They’re smelly and they slobber all over you.”
            “But Ozzie?” I pulled up the two pictures I’d taken.
            “She’s scared. She’s been scared for a long time.”
            “What about the manager?”
            Rachel shook her head. “I don’t think she really knows what’s going on.”
            “Me too.” I found Will Ayres’s number on my phone.
            He answered on the second buzz. “I’m working.”
            “I know. Sorry. I just want to send you a picture. Can you let me know if you recognize it?”
            “What picture? I’m busy!”
            “I don’t want to tell you or influence you. Just call me back when you see it. Whenever you have a chance.” I hung up, went back to the photo, and hit send.
            A hard hand knocked on the door. “What’s going on in there?” Kate. “I need the bathroom!”
            “Sorry.” Embarrassed, we let Kate in.
            Mitch opened beers for us. “I just don’t know what’s going on.”
            “Your manager doesn’t either. Which is . . . curious.”
            “She’s not hiding anything.” Rachel sipped her beer. “I couldn’t sense much from her. But I didn’t really have much chance.”
            My phone buzzed. Will Ayres. “It’s Sparky.”
            “You’re sure?” It was a long time ago,
            “It felt like him. What does it mean?”
            “I’ll let you know.” I hung up. “It’s him. Her. The same dog.”
            “What does that mean?” Kate emerged from the bathroom, wiping her hands.
            We sat at the kitchen table. Boxes were already stacked around the living room.
            I tried to sort out my theory. “Somehow that dog—Ozzie, Sparky, whatever—is making people kill each other and themselves. And it’s been doing it for years.”
            “A dog.” Even after everything she’d seen, Kate gave me the “You’re crazy” look.
            “You saw her.” Rachel crossed her arms. “Did she look 20 years old?
            “What? It was a puppy.
            “After you walked out.” I looked out the window at the city skyline. How much of it had changed over the past two decades? But Ozzie was still the same. “Maybe that’s how she lived so long. Stealing years of life from the people she kills.”
            “What do we do about it?” Rachel asked.
            “We get out.” Kate stood up. “Keep packing.”
            “Coming.” Mitch looked at us. “Thanks.”

“So now what?” Rachel buckled her seat belt as I shoved my key into the Honda’s ignition.
            “I don’t know.” I didn’t start the car yet. “Is it a dog from another dimension? Like that one time? Or is it a demon possessing the dog?”
            She snorted. “So you could call that bartender you know?”
            “Even he’d laugh at me.”
            Rachel leaned back and closed her eyes. “I had that demon inside me once. You remember that one time.”
            “I’m sorry.” I put a hand on her arm. “That was my fault.”
            She pulled away. “No. This was different. Like I said, Ozzie is scared.”
            “Scared of what?”
            “People. Everyone but that manager. And like I said, I don’t think she even understands what’s going on.”
            A car honked behind me, waiting for the space. I started up and headed down the street.
“The Freemans can move.” I glanced in my rearview mirror at the building. “But what about the people who move in after them? And everyone else in the building?”
I stopped for a red light. “I suppose I could try warning all of them in a huge group email—if I had everyone’s email address. Even so, is anyone going to believe me? I could get sued.”
Rachel snorted. “How much would they get?”
“This car, and the twelve dollars in my wallet. And I’d have to pay lawyers, and you’ll have to pay for pizza.” The light changed.
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” She punched my arm. “You’re on your own there, big boy.”
“The other thing—” I turned right.
“What? Hey, watch out!” A cab made a fast left turn in front of me. I honked, it veered, and we exchanged middle fingers.
I turned north. “We might have to kill Ozzie.”
            I braced myself. Rachel’s a vegetarian, and although she’s not exactly a card-carrying member of PETA, she donates to animal shelters and rants against animal abuse on Facebook.
            But she only folded her arms. “Can you kill a little dog? Really?”
            “This isn’t like going back in time to kill Hitler as a child. I couldn’t do that, even if I could travel in time. But this is here and now, and Ozzie is a murderer.”
            “She’s scared.”
We rode in silence the rest of the way. Outside our building I parked and waited for Rachel to punch me. It would have been better than her silence.
            Instead she looked out the window. “What if it’s the building? Not Ozzie.”
            “You mean like it’s on top of an ancient Indian burial ground?”
            She slugged my arm. “No, you idiot. And it’s Native American. Just—you remember when I got possessed by a demon?”
            All too well. “Good thinking. I’ll check it out.”
            She smirked. “You owe me a pizza.”
            “Even better thinking.”

So I spent a few hours doing real estate research. It’s usually just as exciting as it sounds. This quickly became interesting
            The building was 35 years old—and it had been built, not on an ancient burial ground, but on the spot where a previous hotel had burned down five years before. Seventeen people had died.
            It had been a residential hotel. Most of the people who lived there were on government assistance or otherwise close to the poverty line. Some of them were elderly. It happened on a night in February, and firefighters speculated that a space heater had sparked the fire.
            One news story had a small item toward the end: Firefighters had rescued a small dog from the ruins. A beagle.
            I called Rachel. “You’re a genius.”
            “Of course I am. What now?”
            I told her about the hotel. And the dog.
            “So the people who died there are—what? Possessing the dog? And then possessing the people?”
            “Something like that. Angry ghosts.” I’d dealt with a few of those too.
            “So what do we do?”
            I looked at my laptop screen. “Get Ozzie out of the building, I guess?”
            “I was thinking more about—” My phone buzzed with another call. From the Freemans. “Hang on.”
            “It’s here.” Kate’s voice was a trembling whisper. “Ozzie. We can hear him barking but we can’t find him. It’s like he’s in the walls.”
            Oh god. “Get out. Right now. Call Carnes—”
            “The office is closed. It’s after five. I tried.”
            “Then get out and call the cops. The important thing is to get out. I’ll be right over.”
            I switched back to Rachel. “Pizza will have to wait.”

We found Kate sitting next to her husband on a bench in the courtyard next to their building.
            Mitch Freeman stood up as Kate clutched the handle at the edge of the bench. This was the first time I’d seen her scared. Angry? Yeah. And Mitch had always seemed ready to back her up. Now he seemed to be reluctantly taking charge.
            “The police are inside.” He gestured toward a squad car in the circular driveway. “I told them everything. They think we’re crazy.”
            Yeah. “I get that a lot.”
            Rachel sat down next to them. The bench was small, so I stayed on my feet, looking around. “What did you hear? Or see?”
            “The dog was barking in the bedroom. Our daughter’s room.” Kate looked up and twisted around, as if trying to find the apartment up in the sky. “I sent Mitch in, but Ozzie wasn’t there. Not in the closet, not under the bed or behind the dresser. We knocked on the walls. It just kept barking.” She shivered. “That’s when I called you.”
            Mitch put a hand over her shoulder. “We can hire movers to pack everything. We’ll stay at my mom’s place with Tina until we find someplace new.”
            “Yeah.” She clutched his hand. “Not going back.”
            Two cops came out of the entrance. They spotted Freeman and walked over.
            The male cop—Garcia, his nametag read, 20s, with short black hair—shook his head. “Sorry, sir. We looked around thoroughly. There aren’t any secret panels, and we found no sign of a dog.”
            “We also attempted to contact your building manager—Patricia Carnes?” Her name was Patel. “She was unavailable. We did talk to her assistant, Mark Kines. He said he’d contact Ms. Carnes.” She looked up at the building through dark sunglasses. “The barking may have come up through the ventilation shaft in the bathroom. It’s a pet building.”
            I squelched a sigh. These cops seemed sincere, if skeptical. “If you look into it, there’s been a series of murder-suicides in this building. One happened last night. Ask a detective named Rodriguez. I didn’t get his badge number.”
            “I know Rodriguez.” Garcia nodded. “He’s a good detective.”
            “I don’t doubt that. Just maybe . . .” I stopped. “Wait—the ventilation shaft?”
            “It goes up and down through the bathrooms.” Mitch looked down at his wife. “You can smell people cooking, and cigarette smoke . . .”
            Oh no. I glanced at Rachel. She nodded.
I knew what this would sound like. But I had to say it. “Look, you need to check every single apartment on that tier, up and down. Look for a dog. A small beagle named Ozzie. Make sure everyone’s okay. Make sure no one’s trying to kill each other.”
            The two cops glanced at each other. Garcia looked back at their squad car.
            Patel nodded. “We can’t spend any more time here without an actual report of a possible crime. If you find anything—”
            “Jesus Christ.” Kate lurched up from the bench. “Get us a cab, Mitch. These people are useless.”
            “Wait.” I held up a hand. “Just a few minutes.”
            Mitch looked at his wife. She shrugged.
            I nodded to the two cops. “Thanks for your help.”
            “We’ll talk to Rodriguez.” Garcia put on a pair of dark sunglasses. “Call us if you need anything.”
            Rachel stood next to me. “So we have to go in there, don’t we?”
            I looked up at the building. The sun was setting. Windows were lighting up. I saw a barbecue grill glowing. Someone was cooking dinner.
            A girl on a tricycle zoomed past us in the courtyard. Her mother chased after her, flashing a quick smile. “Sorry!”
            Rachel waved. “No problem!”
            “We have to go.” Mitch held his wife’s hand.
            “I know.” I looked at the entrance. “Can you just help me with one thing?”

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