Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dead Man Stalking, Part Two

So what did Castille want from Kirk? And did it have anything to do with Becky?
            Back home I went to my laptop and checked Martin Castille on the databases of the city’s two biggest newspapers. His name popped up in a few articles. Arrested in connection with running a meth lab, charges dropped for lack of evidence. Questioned in a marijuana bust but apparently never charged. Scored a winning touchdown on his high school football team 20 years ago. Probably not relevant.
            Rachel knocked on my door, carrying her own laptop. “How’s the ghost hunting?”
            “I saw him for real. So did two of his friends.”
            “Well, there are a couple of possibilities.” She sat down and opened her laptop. “If he’s a zombie, somebody brought him back. He doesn’t have a lot of free will, but he might have some memories, and if the zombie-maker doesn’t have a tight leash on him, he could get loose and start looking for reminders of his past life.”
            That sort of fit, but I wanted to listen to everything. “What else? Do you want a beer?”
            “Of course. Well, if he’s a ghost, he could have been called by a medium, or else he’s stuck here looking for something specific before he goes on to the next world. His ability to interact with this world would be limited—thanks.” She sipped the Heineken.            
            I thought about the bruise on Castille’s jaw. “Probably not a ghost.”
            “Ancient necromancers brought back the dead using big fancy rituals with talismans and spells and that sort of stuff. I got this mostly from Wikipedia.” She clicked a page on her laptop. “They’d keep stuff from the dead guy, sometimes his clothes or body parts. Generally they’d do it with someone who’s just dead. After about a year they’d try bringing back a spirit instead of a body.”
            “Charming.” I sipped my own beer. “How do you get rid of it?”
            “Find the person who brought it back, make him stop the spell. Or if it’s a zombie, a shot to the head, if George Romero had it right.” She chewed her lower lip for a second, looking almost worried. “What’s going on, mister?”
            I started to explain when my cell phone buzzed. Becky. Or actually her husband.
            “Mr. Jurgen?” Ryan sounded rattled. “We haven’t seen Kirk today, but now there’s a car outside our house. There’s a guy with an earring who looks like he took too many steroids, and another guy in a leather jacket.”
            Damn it. This was my fault. I’d told Pablo about Kirk having a girlfriend.
            Ryan was a client. I had to be honest. “They’re friends of Kirk’s. He came after them a few hours ago, and I was with them, and I told them—”
            “Wait, wait!” He cut in before I could finish confessing my stupidity. “That means Kirk’s not just looking for Stevie, right?” Relief came through his voice.
            “Maybe not.” Okay, I’d explain later. “Where are Stevie and Becky now?”
            “She’s got him downstairs, watching videos. We can keep him inside all night, his bedtime’s in an hour. Are these guys dangerous?”
            Castille had hit me from behind. And Pablo didn’t seem like any kind of a pacifist. “Just keep an eye on them. You can call the police anytime and tell them they’re watching you, and they’ll come out and get rid of them. His name’s Martin Castille.”
            “Martin—Castille. Got it.”
            I couldn’t just sit here, though. I looked at the clock on my wall. “I’ll be out there in half an hour, and I’ll talk to them. Call me if anything happens.” I hesitated. “And definitely call the police if they come up to the house.”
            “Oh, God.” His voice shook. “What the hell is going on? I’ve got a gun upstairs, should I—”
            “I wouldn’t do that,” I said quickly. A weapon could make the problem worse, fast. “But—do whatever you need to do. Just be careful and stay out of their way if you can.”
            “All right. Thank you.” He hung up.
            Thank you? He wouldn’t be saying that tomorrow morning. I’d be lucky if they let me keep the retainer.
            “I’ve got to go.” I handed Rachel what was left of my beer.
            “What is it?” She stood up. “Do you want me to come? Where are we going?”
            I held up a hand. “No. Really. I’ll be all right, but if I have to worry about too many people it’ll just get too complicated.”
            She crossed her arms, and for a moment I was sure she was going to argue with me. Or just slug me. Rachel doesn’t like people trying to protect her—and most of the time she didn’t need it. She could probably handle a ghost or a zombie.
            But meth dealers, possibly armed? I didn’t want to find out.
            So she dropped her arms, gave me the finger, and then leaned in to kiss my cheek. “Don’t get hurt. Jerk.”
            “Number one on my mission statement.” I grabbed my jacket, checked my Taser, and left while I could still feel her kiss on my face.

I parked in the Oshers’ driveway to make sure Castille saw me. Then I called Ryan from my car.
            “I’m going to go talk to them.” I was proud of how my voice didn’t shake. “If they’re still here after ten minutes, call the cops. If I wave, call the cops. If they get out of the car, call the cops.” I swallowed. “Basically, if they don’t leave—”
            “Call the cops. I got it.” He almost laughed. “Be careful.”
            I got out of the Honda. I was sure the entire block could hear my heart pounding as I walked down the driveway toward Castille’s car, a red Camaro that looked twenty years old.
            They watched me walking across the lawn. When I got close, Pablo rolled down his window. “What are you doing here, man?”
            “You need to get out of here.” Again, my voice didn’t flinch. Maybe I was getting good at bravery. Or faking it. “The family in there is going to call the cops.”
            “We’re waiting for Kirk,” Castille barked, keeping his eyes on the street. “You said—”
            “Please forget what I said.” I jammed my hands in my pockets so they wouldn’t see my fingers shaking. “These people don’t have anything to do with your business.”
            “You don’t know anything about our business.” He drummed his fingers on the wheel. “We won’t bother anyone. We just need to talk to Kirk for a few minutes.”
            “Even though he’s dead.”
            Castille jerked his head toward me. “I don’t care about dead or alive. If he can tell me what I want to know—”
            “Martin?” Pablo pointed a finger. “Over there.”
            Oh, hell. I stepped back from the car and looked down the street.
            Kirk stood in the middle of the road, in the same clothes, the same gray eyes staring straight ahead.
            Many things happened at once. Or they seemed to.
            Castille pushed his door open and got out.
            I waved my hand toward the house. Call the cops! Right now!
            Pablo got out of the car. He glanced at Kirk, then he looked at me. “What is this?”
            Castille marched down the street. He had a pistol in his hand. “Kirk! Where is it?”
            Then the door of the house opened. I expected Ryan with his own handgun, but instead it was Becky. Her face was pale, but her shoulders were high and straight, as if she was tired of being afraid as she stepped down onto her lawn.
            Kirk saw her. He took a halting step forward.
            “Come on, man!” Castille waved his pistol. “Just tell me where it is!”
            “Kirk!” Becky screamed. “We broke up! Go away!”
            Kirk lifted his head, ignoring Castille. “B-b-beck . . .”
            Castille cursed and whirled around, aiming his weapon at Becky. “Give me what I want, Kirk, or else she—”
            The gun went off.
            Of course he missed her. He was twenty yards away, and even the best shot on the police force can’t hit a target at that range firing with one hand. Plus, he might not even have meant to pull the trigger.
            I heard a window break somewhere, and Becky dropped to the ground, covering her head. Ryan ran out of the house, but at least he didn’t have his own gun. He just skidded to a stop next to his wife and shielded her with his body
            And then Kirk was running. Like before, faster than I figured any undead thing could move. But he was down the street and on top of Castille before I could think about grabbing for my Taser.
            “Kirk! What—” Then Castille was flat on his back in front of his car, shrieking like a dog being mauled by a lion. Kirk hit him over and over again, groaning with each punch.
            I took a step forward. Maybe my Taser would stop him, or at least slow him down. But Pablo grabbed my arm. “What the hell is that?”
            “It’s your friend.” I pulled my arm free. “What’s Martin looking for?”
            “He had fifty thousand dollars in cash!” Pablo stared at the scene. “Then he got hit by a car! It belonged to us! It’s ours—”
            Right. I’d figured something like that. I lifted my Taser. “So you can drive away right now, but they’re going to get you pretty soon anyway. Or you can stay here and argue with your pal after he’s done with Martin.”
            I felt like Clint Eastwood. Except he probably never worried about soiling his underwear when confronting a bad guy. Pablo backed away from me, and I managed another step forward.
            Castille’s face was bloody, but Kirk wasn’t ripping out his throat. He just kept hitting him, like a metronome, one-two-three . . . I raised the Taser. “Kirk! Stop it! Kirk—”
            Stevie. An 8-year-old red-haired boy in pajama bottoms and a Snoopy T-shirt, running across the front yard toward Ryan, his arms flailing. “Daddy! I’m scared!”
            Becky reared up. “No, Stevie! Get back in the house! Ryan!”
            “Mommy!” Stevie jumped between them, his hands searching for their arms. “Mommy!”
            Ryan grabbed the boy. Kirk stopped. He stood up, blood on his fists, and stared at the little boy, his eyes alive for the first time.
            He lurched forward. Stopped. Took another step.
            Stevie was crying. “Mommy, mommy . . .”
            Becky stood up. Ryan tried to pull her back down, but she pushed his hand away. “Kirk!” Her voice was a scream. And a threat.
            I gripped my Taser with both hands. Castille’s pistol sat on the street. Pablo was—I glanced back. He was running away down the street. Good for him.
            But Becky was walking toward the dead man, her shoulders stiff. “For Christ’s sake!” She shouted loud enough for all the neighbors to hear. “It’s over, Kirk. We’re done! Go away!”
            He cocked his head, as if he didn’t understand. But he took a step back. “B-beck?” He clenched his teeth. “Beck—Becky?”
            “Go away, Kirk.” She stopped, one knee trembling. “It’s over. Just leave me alone. Okay?”
            He groaned. “Stevie . . . Stevie?”
            “He’s fine!” She whipped a glance at me, and I headed close to her, ready to shoot Taser darts into Kirk’s chest. Would that even stop him? But she held a hand up, and I waited.
            She forced a smile at him. “Stevie is okay. He’s beautiful. You can see that. I’ll tell him everything. But Kirk . . . you need to go.”
            Kirk nodded. “Y-yeah.” Another step back, and he looked down at Castille. For a moment I thought he’d stomp his head, but instead he just leaned down, opened his mouth, and unloaded a stream of spit on Castille’s head.
            Castille rolled over. “Urrgh . . .”
            Kirk lifted a hand. A wave. Then he swung around and ran. At the end of the block, he was gone.

“Thank you.” Becky shoved a mug of coffee at me. “I don’t know what we would have done.”
            The cops were gone. Castille was locked up, and Pablo was—somewhere else. Possibly in Missouri by now. And Stevie was asleep.
            I rubbed my eyes. “I’m sorry.” The coffee tasted good, and I needed it, but I had another stop to make. And a phone call. I stood up.
            “Wait.” Ryan came out of Stevie’s bedroom. “You’re not going, are you?”
            “Ryan, Becky . . .” I had to be honest. “I screwed up. I told Castille that Kirk was looking for you. Not by name, but, well . . .” I shrugged. “He wouldn’t have shown up here if I’d kept my mouth shut. I am—very sorry. If you want your check back . . .”
            I might have trouble with the rent this month, but maybe Rachel would let me sleep on her couch in exchange for washing dishes.
            Becky followed me to the door. “But—he’s really gone?”
            I hoped so. “I don’t think he’ll come back.”
            She forced a smile. “At least I got to tell him off one last time. And I got to—oh, shit.” She turned away from me. “At least I got to see him—one last time. I thought . . .”
            Ryan looked at me, then he was next to her, and I could only lean against the door as she sobbed.
            “I’m sorry, Ryan, I’m so sorry!” Becky cried. “It’s just—he doesn’t mean anything, he’s only this one guy, this one stupid, stupid guy . . .”
            Ryan kissed the top of her head. “I know, babe. I know. It’s all right.” He stroked her shoulders. “I’m right here.”
            I reached for the doorknob. Ryan nodded to me. “Thanks, Tom.”
            Becky whispered something. Ryan laughed and patted her head. “Yeah. Be sure to send us an invoice.”
            “Right.” I opened the door. “Good night.”

I pulled up in front of Lulu Hess’s house twenty minutes later. Rachel was already there in her blue Prius.
            “You think it’s her?” She slammed her door.
            “It makes the most sense.” Castille and Pablo hadn’t seemed to really know what was going on. They only wanted to know where the money was. That might be a good motive for bringing Kirk back of the dead—if they knew how.
            But his mother obviously had a stronger reason. We walked up the tangled lawn to the porch.
            Lulu pulled the door open right away. She leaned over, her head swaying from side to side as if she’d just woken from a long nap. “Yeah? It’s late.”
            Night had fallen, and half the streetlights were dark. “I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am. It’s Tom Jurgen. I was here earlier today? This is my associate Rachel.” “Associate” always sounds more professional than “psychic friend.”
            “What d’you want?” I wasn’t sure she recognized me.
            “It’s about Kirk.”
            Lulu pushed on the screen door to let us in.
            The candles around the room were burning bright. Either she liked the atmosphere, or she hadn’t paid her electric bill in a few months. Another bottle of red wine sat on the table.
            Lulu sank down on her couch and poured herself a full glass. “What’ss this about?”
            I looked through the shadows. The white candle in the corner still burned, throwing soft flickering light over the photo of Kirk and his possessions around it. “Over there.”
            Rachel took a step forward. “I can feel it. Oh, yeah.”
            “Don’t get too close!” Lulu reared up, spilling wine on her jeans. “That belongs to me!”
            “Right!” Rachel backed away slowly. “Not blowing it out.”
            Lulu dropped back down on the couch. “You can’t come in here. This is my home. You just get out!” She drained her glass and pounded the table with her fist. “Now!”
            “I’d like to ask you a few questions about Kirk.” I used my best voice, low and nonjudgmental, the one I used on lawyers and telemarketers.
            “What about him?” She snatched her glass up, ready to throw it at me. “He’s my boy! What do you know about him? Do you have any kids?”
            She’d asked that before. I shook my head. “No.”
            “Then you don’t know what it’s like.” She leaned back on the couch. “To lose one of them. Years and years and . . . all that. You try. You’re bringing them up, and they don’t listen, but you try and you keep trying, and then . . . then someone hits them in a car, and all of that . . . it’s like none of it ever happened.”
            “But you can change that.” Rachel was standing behind me. “Right?”
            “I got some books.” She waved a hand at a bookcase. “My girl Lori gave them to me. She’s got some weird friends down in Florida. Deep in the swamps, you know?”
            Most of the shelves held pictures of Kirk, but a few books lay stacked on the bottom. Rachel knelt down and began pulling volumes out onto the floor. “True Secrets of Voodoo? Trash. The Serpent and the Rainbow—yeah, not bad. This one—I can’t read Latin. Necromancy for Dummies? No. Book of the Dead . . .” She flipped through the pages. “This is the one.”
            “Lulu.” I looked over at the candle. “I’m sorry about Kirk. Really. But I saw him today. Twice. And he’s—lost.”
            “How can you say that?” Lulu glared at me, her eyes burning in the candlelight. “He’s here, isn’t he? I was asleep. That's the way it is with kids. They go where they want, they don’t listen, but they’re . . . here. That’s what matters.”
            I thought about the Oshers and Stevie. “Yeah. I guess I get that. But—”
            Then a new shadow fell into the living room.
            “M-mom?” It was Kirk.
            Rachel stiffened her back. Lulu twisted around on the couch, and then she pushed herself up and staggered toward him, her arms out.            
            “You came home!” The smile on her face looked like a sloppy cartoon. “Where did you go? I was just taking a nap. I told you not to go too far away!”
            “Mom.” Kirk’s arms hung at his sides as Lulu embraced him. “Mom.”
            Rachel and I looked at each other. She rubbed my arm. "You want me to do it?"
           "No. Kirk?” I held up a hand, wondering if he remembered me. Or if he even heard me. “Stevie’s fine. Becky is fine. But you need to go.”
            One of Kirk’s legs collapsed like flat tire, and he grabbed for the edge of the couch. Lulu caught his arm. “It’s okay, baby,” she whispered. “You’ll get better tomorrow. I’ll take care of you—”
            Kirk pounded a fist on the couch. “No. No!”
            Lulu jumped away. “It’ll be all right, Kirk. I’m here. You can . . . you can . . .”
            Kirk groaned. "No. No. I—" He looked at his mother. "I go."
            “What?” Lulu whirled around. “No! You can’t! He’s my son!”
            Kirk lurched up on his good leg. “Mom . . . mom . . . Love . . . love . . .”
            “Stop!” Lulu screamed.
            I crouched in front of the candle. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
            Then I blew it out.
            Kirk disappeared. No flash of light or puff of smoke. Just gone, as if he’d never been there.
            I expected Lulu to scream, or attack us with a burning candlestick or a bottle of wine. Instead she just sank down to the floor in silence, as if she was praying. I heard her breathing softly, not crying or cursing. When I walked around to check her, her eyes were closed and her lips were tight.
            Without looking at me, Lulu whispered, “Go.” It was fiercer than any curse.
            I nodded to Rachel. She picked up The Book of the Dead and held in away from her body as she carried it to her car.

“This is why I never want to have children,” Rachel said as we walked across the dark yard.
            “You keep telling me that.”
            “Cats are better. Goldfish.”                       
            “Maybe.” I thought about the Oshers and Stevie. “I hear some people like kids.”
            She smirked. “Don’t get any ideas.”            
            “Never.” I opened my door. “Dinner?”
            She leaned against the VW’s hood. “I don’t feel like dinner. Maybe a beer. Or two.”
            “Follow me,” I agreed.

 # # #

1 comment:

  1. Mamas and their babies . . . I'm glad Tom didn't get too bashed up this time.