She still had skin on her face, hands and feet, and just enough to sit down on the seat of the truck. The rest of her was wrapped in plastic cling wrap. Her heart was still beating when the ambulances got there, but there wasn’t much they could do for someone whose skin was mostly gone, especially since her heart was pounding ferociously, driving her blood out of her faster than they could replace it, and she’d already lost too much blood. She didn’t make it to the hospital. And while Rose’s prayer for mercy probably had nothing to do with it, at least Fate was kind enough to her that she neither woke nor dreamt before she died.
She arrived at the morgue before the batteries in the vibrator that was still inside her had completely worn down.
Laura had failed. He had taken up a position near where he would command the crash to be. He’d bought popcorn from a street vendor and stood in a crowd of people at the bus stop, grinning cheerfully, watching as the Ford Victoria and the Mercedes panel truck approached. He’d been supremely confident in Laura; he’d crafted her carefully, he’d made her what she was. It had taken days to break her mind and make it into what he’d wanted it to be, and three hours of fast, careful work to flay her. A lot of careful preparation had gone into Laura; she was a work of art. Laura was to have been his messenger, to strike fear into the hearts of the police, to end the life of the investigator and make the case into a case that no one wanted to inherit. But she had failed him. At the last instant the police car had swerved to one side, and she hadn’t compensated in time to get a properly fatal head-on collision.
His face twisted into an ugly snarl, and then he reached out with his mind, intent on making her suffer. Her brain could dream for three or four minutes even after her heart and breathing stopped and in three or four minutes, he knew from past experience, he could put lifetimes of punishment into a dreaming mind. She would be raped by demons and tortured and maimed eighty times a day for a century of dreams before he had to let her go, and he was looking forward to it. The demons were already there, in her mind, where he had placed them ready for their parts. He was looking forward to distorting her, making her depraved, wondering what wonderful new ideas her imagination might give him in her extremis of pain and degradation.
But when his mind touched hers again, he found it changed. There were things in it he hadn’t put there. Through all her pain, through her degradation, through the hunger for death, through the despair, through all his artwork, there was something new. Rose? I am Rose, that was a thought someone had left in Laura’s dying mind. Someone else had the power. Someone else had been playing with his toy. Someone had messed up his game, had been here and distanced herself, and inevitably Laura, from Laura’s pain. Someone had thought things into Laura’s brain like ‘The pain is someone else’s’ and ‘I have worth’ and ‘I want to live.’ Preposterous. It was as if someone had painted a cartoon mustachio on his masterpiece. It robbed his work of depth and clarity. Damn her too then. But … someone else had the power. And if someone else had the power, then she could suffer in ways that none of these others could. She could suffer over and over again …. And oh yes, he would make her suffer.
Where was the Other? He left Laura’s mind, tracing a slender thread of consciousness back, somewhere westward. He felt guts clenching in dry heaves, and focused in on the pain. He almost had her, but then something alien threw him off the trail and he missed the mark, not quite managing to connect. The other — Rose — had slipped away from him, and he hunted for a little while, but she was back in some kind of shelter. But he had thought one thing at her, that she couldn’t take shelter any more. He would have her. It was only a matter of time. For now, he turned his attention back to Laura.
But he had been distracted, and Laura was already dead. Her mind had stopped dreaming. Damn, Damn, Damn! He hadn’t made her suffer. She had failed him, and he had failed to wreak his vengeance. Rose, whoever Rose was, had stolen Laura’s pain from him. Now Laura’s allotment of pain had to be added to that due her.
He cast Laura’s ring into a trash can and stalked away.
Mitch woke up in an ambulance. A paramedic shined a flashlight in his eyes, took his pulse and blood pressure, and told him to just lie quietly until they got him to the hospital and a doctor could check him out.
So he lay quietly, staring at the ceiling. “How long was I out?” he asked.
“Not more than four or five minutes,” said the EMT. “We were rolling fifteen seconds after we got the call, and we were close.”
“… got the call?” Mitch frowned. “I didn’t make a call. Did David make a call?”
“911 dispatch. Came from some woman over on Valencia, but she was calling in your crash on Cali street. The dispatcher was going to have us go over there if we didn’t find you where she said. Your heart rate and blood pressure are way too high, dude, you need to relax. I don’t think you’re seriously hurt, but I’m going to have to give you something to calm you down. This may knock you out, but you’ll be okay.” The EMT was getting something ready with a needle and a syringe, then Mitch felt a bee sting on his arm.
As he was drifting off, he heard David’s voice from the gurney on the other side of the ambulance. “Right,” the big man said. “Called in an accident on Cali from over on Valencia. And did you get a look at the driver of that truck?! I think I was right, Mitch. This is a fuckin’ weird case.”
“Oh yeah,” Mitch said. “Right down the damn rabbit hole and into Neverland.” and then he drifted off to sleep. Whatever they had given him, it was good; he didn’t dream.
Indra was out on her skateboard, looking for good stuff. She could always find good stuff when she was looking for art supplies. And the Randoms always needed more good stuff. They couldn’t pay her, but she liked having them owe her favors. Sometimes they’d do something really nice for her and Philo when they got back on their feet. She was covering a lot of ground. She was a blur of tattoos, piercings, short shorts, combat boots, and a halter-top to most folks. She smiled, smacked her bubblegum, and blew a great big satisfied bubble as the tourists gawked at her. Freaking out tourists was one of her favorite hobbies.
When she felt the dream-storm starting, she worried a bit, ’cause she was out in the open. The tapestry of tattoos that was her skin represented almost a year of concentration, pain, and art; she was better protected than most of the ones who wore the best clothes they could find at thrifts. Still, being out in the worst of it would suck, and suck hard.
But she was close to the San Francisco Library, so she pointed her wheels there and snagged onto the bumper of a cab. That was so much easier now that she’d figured it out. If she thought that snagging a ride on a cabbie’s bumper was the most natural thing in the world, the cabbie would too. And then instead of getting all pissy about it, often as not they’d just wave at her. If they were cute guys, sometimes she’d grin at them and flash them her tits or something. She had worried the first time she’d done it that she might want to just because they wanted her to, but life was too short to worry about shit like why you wanted to do things. Indra figured, if you want to do it, you do it.
She made the library within two minutes, casually bouncing her skateboard off the front stairs and flipping it up into her hands in a smooth, practiced motion, and ran inside. Safe. Several of the Lost Ones had sheltered there too; they were walking around and mumbling and sometimes alarming the regular customers, but of course they all had library cards.
The storm was brief; it was only a half-hour or so before she came out of the library again. Then she snagged onto a bread truck, rode it across Market street and aimed the board down California. There was some kind of huge crash at one of the intersections, but while that caught everyone else’s eye, what caught Indra’s eye was a trash can across the street from it. There was something really potent in there.
So while a bunch of official-looking people poked around the crash, Indra snagged a chunk of welding rod out of her fanny pack and went fishing in the trash can. It took some time because she couldn’t actually see what she was after, and the trash can had one of those lids that’s supposed to keep hands out of it, but eventually she came up with an iron ring that had a cheap glass stone in it. Her eyes glazed briefly as she gazed at it. She couldn’t tell what it was, but damn, this thing was potent!
She closed her hand around it and almost dropped it again, because it was also really really nasty. It remembered blood and pain and lust, and it remembered a flaying and fear and pain and cruelty and heartlessness and some people – Wait. I-am-Rose was that girl from Morey’s Bookstore. She glanced over at the official-looking people who were still poking around the accident, wondering if the ring had been connected to the accident or the storm. But cops didn’t like Indra and, naturally, she didn’t like them back, so she dropped the ring into her fanny pack. Fighting its sudden greasy feel and the bad taste in her mouth, she pointed her board downhill and got the hell out of there. She wouldn’t normally keep something this nasty, but this ring, she thought, would be good as an art supply. It would have been the perfect thing to melt into the bronze that she was using for Agony. It was too bad she’d already done the pours.
James Abelard had been at home when it started — he felt fear, and pain, and horror, but there was nothing to connect it to. He wondered if maybe work stress was getting to him. Sometimes it was a strain — sometimes it felt like he was driving, and out of control, and felt like he desperately needed to crash.
He needed to relax. He got up and headed into his library, sat down on his bed, and started reading some papers. It was early in the evening, he thought; the episode would probably be over by bedtime, and a good thing. It was never a good idea to go to sleep when he felt this way, he’d dream bad dreams.
Rose stared miserably at the wall. “I told you this already,” she said listlessly. “We’re freaks. We — we don’t read minds exactly, we just get tangled up in other people’s thoughts. And we don’t control other people’s minds exactly, but when you’re tangled up in something, it’s tangled up in you too, and you give it a good hard yank, you can move it. Your killer is the same kind of freak, just real strong and really vicious.”
“Right,” said the interviewer. He wished Mitch was here, this was his goddamn case. This woman was either crazy or lying to him, and he didn’t know enough about Flanagan’s case to ask the right questions to get past it. He just had to wait until she got tired.
And Rose was getting tired. This man didn’t believe her, and if she got too tired, in the same room with this man, she wouldn’t believe herself either. And she knew it. “Look, I’m getting tired,” she said. “It’s really hard for me to keep making sense when I’m tired. I need to go home.”
“Can we just go over this one more time, Miss DeCourtney? I want to know how you found out about the car crash.”
“Somebody — the same kind of freak as me — had been in her head, and driving her to kill herself and those two. And I felt what he was doing to her and I saw the crash through her eyes.” Rose was reciting it now. She was no longer really sure, but she had memorized the words so she could keep saying it even if she got too tired and didn’t believe it any more.
“And whoever it is, he’s strong and I’ve always gone for shelter whenever something bad is happening and I haven’t known more than just knowing really bad shit is happening again. But I went out this time, left shelter so I could – see what exactly was going down. And call it in to you guys. And I did.” Rose was starting to get angry. She didn’t want to remember this again.
“So how does that work, exactly? What exactly are you talking about taking shelter from?” He still didn’t believe her. She suddenly realized that memorizing stuff so she didn’t have to think about it anymore had been his idea to start with. He didn’t believe the answers he’d gotten so far, and he knew she was going to get tired. So he’d just memorized the questions. He’d keep asking these same questions over and over until she got tired of lying and told him the truth. Damnit, I am Rose, I am telling the truth.
Rose looked at him. “A … a dream storm,” she started. But she was too tired to go on. She wanted to go home, home to a wife and kids, and rest, and leave this crazy woman at the station. This crazy redheaded woman with her impossible story…. No.
No, damn it, I am Rose. I am Rose and I will not leave here without being believed. She was frustrated. She was angry. She was tired. She was at the end of her rope and she knew from the shape of his mind that there was nothing else she could do that would convince this man of the truth. So… so she was already tangled up in his head. It was time to give it a good hard yank. She put both of her hands on the table, where the surveillance cameras could see that she wasn’t doing anything with them. There was a divider under he table, so they’d know she hadn’t kicked him. “Well, it’s like this,” she said. And then she looked into his eyes, locked minds with him and remembered it all.
He didn’t take it well. He started screaming and leaped back from the table. He went for his gun, but he didn’t have one. No guns in the interview rooms. Rose reached out for the paper cup they’d given her and took a drink of water while he got his shit together enough to quit cowering in the corner and ran for the door.
“Sorry about that,” she said as he fumbled with the doorknob in panic. “It was just the only way to convince you, is all.” And then the door slammed and she was alone in the room. Slowly, shakily, Rose took another long drink of water and set down her glass. She stared at the one-way mirror, feeling someone behind it watching her, suddenly confused and afraid. She saw herself through the eyes behind the mirror, locked gazes through the one-way glass. “And remembering it sucked just as hard for me as it did for him,” she finished, addressing whomever it was behind the mirror. The tears flowed down her cheeks.
When the door opened again, three men and two women came in. The one who’d been interviewing her for the last five hours wasn’t one of them. She looked at them, anguish in her eyes. “I’m terribly sorry about what just happened, officers. But he made me remember things, and he got caught in my remembering them. I really need to go home.”
“What in the hell did you do to Thomas?” one of them said. He hadn’t even listened to her.
“I told him the whole truth,” she said, “the only way he could believe it. And now I really have to go home.”
“But how …” The only way she can possibly show me is to do the same thing to me, he suddenly realized.
Rose looked at him, working very hard to remain herself. “The only way I could possibly show you,” she said, and suddenly he turned pale, “would be terribly unpleasant. Please, I don’t want to explain it again. Let Officer Thomas explain it to you, and please believe him. He knows, now. I’ve made my statement, and I have to go home, now, while I’m still me.” But her heart was sinking, because she already knew they couldn’t let her go.
“I’m afraid we can’t do that, Ms. DeCourtney,” said one of the women. Rose knew she was the one who’d been watching through the glass. Rose felt her fear and her jitters at this impossible situation, at the unknown that Rose represented. “We’ve got an attack on officers, which you had inside knowledge of even though you weren’t close to the scene. We’ve got a brutal murder, which you also have inside knowledge of – clearly foreknowledge since you were nowhere close to the scene. You and this Mike Clelland are the only two people outside the force who knew where these officers were going to be when they were attacked. So there’s probable cause here, and you can get a lawyer tomorrow morning if you want, but for right now, you’re not going anywhere. We’re going to have to hold you for questioning.” And there’s no way I’m letting you go until I find out if Thomas is okay, Rose heard her thinking.
Rose looked into her eyes right then, and they wondered together whether there was any way they could just decide to let Rose go home. But there’d be hell to pay and heads to roll if she let a prime suspect go, and they decided together that it probably wasn’t worth it. Rose stared at the floor. “Oh no,” she said in a very small voice.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.