There was construction going on behind the restaurant. There was a stairway down on the north side, but it was blocked. Mitch walked down the sidewalk to the south, and found a tiny patio overlooking the sea. Two dozen yards away, he could see the shed Rose had mentioned. On its side was a sign that said “Giant Camera.”
It looked like this was probably the closest he’d get without breaking into the construction site, so he stood and waited.
Wolf arrived first. He swung off a bus up next to a hamburger stand that overlooked the old Sutro Baths and came walking down the sidewalk with a purposeful stride. Mitch wasn’t terribly reassured to see him out of jail now. He looked uncomfortably feral and out of place, like a panther somehow released in the city instead of a wrongly convicted citizen returned to freedom. He had on a new work coat and there was a duffel bag swinging by his side. The wind shifted; a scant second later his gaze locked on Mitch. Spooky as hell, Mitch thought, as he lifted his hand to give Wolf an uncomfortable wave.
“So Mitch,” Wolf said as he came down the sidewalk to the patio. “What happened?”
“We figured something out, my partner and me. The people the Hook is taking down, they’re people like Rose. Just a lot weaker. But then my partner went nuts. Pulled a gun, tried to shoot me. I got the hell out.”
“Went nuts, huh?” Wolf said. “This was at the station just now?”
“So what the hell are we waiting for?” said Wolf. “He’s got to be there, and the sonofabitch is gonna get away.”
“We’re waiting for Rose,” Mitch said. “And if we go in there now we’re going to have to kill cops and they’re going to have to kill us.”
Wolf’s mouth compressed to a grim line. “So from their point of view, Mitch,” he said bitterly, “is living any better?”
“Don’t fucking start that, Wolf. We’re talking about my partner here, guys I’ve worked with for years. We are not going to go in shooting.” Mitch shrugged. “Besides, we’d lose.”
“Crap thinking, Mitch,” said Wolf. “When you assume you’ll lose, it’s true.”
“Crap thinking? Wolf, it’s just as big a steaming turd of crap thinking to assume you’re going to win,” Mitch snapped. “We don’t know enough to go in, and we’re talking about sixty guys who train on a firing range three times a week. Every one of them has a pistol on them and we don’t know which of them besides my partner the Hook has gotten to. If you go in shooting, they’re going to fucking kill you. And they’ll do that whether the Hook has them or not. You like those odds? You want to die?”
Wolf just gazed at him in cold silence.
“Wolf.” Mitch was exasperated. “We’re talking about innocent people. Guys with wives, kids, girlfriends, boyfriends…. Shooting innocent people isn’t justice, Wolf.”
Wolf set down his duffel suddenly and stared at the sea, gone from rage to cold sobriety in an instant. “You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I was making it too personal. Crap thinking, for sure.” There was an awkward silence. “I’m real sorry, Mitch. You’re right, I got stupid for a few minutes.” The pause drew itself out. “So… we’re waiting for Rose?”
A klaxon horn interrupted him. The Decoupage Coupe had just pulled up on the road, and Rose was waving at them frantically. “Not anymore,” said Mitch. They got in without another word.
Rose put the car in gear and they rolled down the Great Highway next to Ocean Beach. The silence grew longer.
Mitch saw Wolf’s nostrils flaring again. It seemed like a little bit of Wolf’s cold rage might be returning. Better head that off quick. “Rose, this is Wolf Scudder. Two and a half years ago, Wolf’s wife got killed — probably by this same guy. Wolf, this is Rose DeCourtney. She’s kind of a psychic or something, and so’s our killer, and these killings have been fucking up her whole world too, just in a different way.”
Wolf, whatever was going on behind his eyes, visibly relaxed. Rose did too. “That’s right,” she said in an abstracted way, looking like she was trying hard to concentrate on driving. “When he — does what he does — it makes a kind of a — it makes it suck to be like me is what it does.” She turned to look curiously at Wolf, then turned back to the road. “You, you hit me with that memory of your wife cutting her throat. Back in the bookstore, that was what it was. I wasn’t remembering it, except that you were remembering it and I was tripping on you right then so I remembered it too. I’m sorry.”
Wolf looked tense and angry again. Rose didn’t look at him. She just grimaced and said, “I said I was sorry. I didn’t mean to trip on you, it just happened. I – I can usually avoid that when I’m not tired, but this time – it just happened.”
“So,” Wolf said, “You know what’s going on inside people’s heads?”
Rose nodded, still concentrating on the road. “Usually.” Then she grimaced again. “And if I’m too tired I can get confused about whose head it’s really happening in too, theirs or mine. And that really sucks.”
Wolf snorted. “I guess I see how it might. So, you make a living at this psychic thing?”
“Oh hell no,” replied Rose with her own derisive snort. “If those clowns were like me, they couldn’t stand to be anywhere near their customers.”
“Why not?” Wolf wanted to know.
“It’s … hard to explain,” Rose said. “They’ve got this bottomless kind of need, and if I let them fixate it on me it would … I’d die. They’d make me into something dictated by their need, and I’d get Lost in it.”
Wolf nodded. “Not pretty. Okay, I guess I get it.”
Mitch noticed that Rose was hitting her brakes for the stoplights at the exact same instant as the car in front of them. And that car was hugging the right side of the lane, and so was Rose. But it was working. He guessed as long as she didn’t make any sharp turns onto roads they hadn’t gotten to yet, it would be okay, so he kept his mouth shut. But he fastened his seat belt anyway.
Rose nodded. “Seat belt’s probably a good idea,” she said. Wolf fastened his too.
A few minutes later Rose took a left on Sloat, prompting Wolf to ask, “Where are we goin’, anyway?”
“If I can’t get home,” Rose said evenly, “I need to either get to some kind of shelter or get the hell away from the city, ’cause it’ll kill me. There used to be some places in the city, but they were art places and they mostly got pushed out during the dot-com bubble. Mitch wants to be someplace he hasn’t written into the case files yet in case his partner uses those files to hunt him, and both of you want to meet more … freaks like me and try to understand how this works.” Then she shrugged. “I can’t vouch for these people — more than half of ’em are probably more than half crazy — but there’s a shelter place in the east bay, so I was heading for it. We’ll take Highway 380 across to 101 and 101 northeast to highway 80 across the bay bridge.”
“That goes too close to the station,” said Mitch. “Good destination, but take a different route. 101 south to the San Mateo bridge and then north on 680 instead.”
Rose looked startled. “Oh. I missed that. Right.” Then she frowned. “What’s with the calendar thing, Mitch?”
“Just checking something,” Mitch said. “Don’t worry about it, just drive.”
“Oh,” she said. “Good idea.” Then she paused, stopping herself from hitting the horn button as someone cut off the driver ahead of her. The synchronicity of the horn blast with her aborted movement was perfect, except that the Decoupage Coupe’s horn was a klaxon. “It probably worked,” she said slowly. “Calendar thoughts wouldn’t have been what he thought he was looking for. ”
“Doesn’t work on you,” Mitch pointed out.
“I’m right here,” Rose replied quietly, although her eyes looked faraway.
“Uh, no offense,” Wolf interrupted, “but would we be safer if I was to drive instead of you? Seems like you’re getting distracted.”
“If you would, Wolf, yes, please. Driving is hard anyway, because I — well, I do get distracted, it’s so many folks so fast.” Rose pulled into the parking lot of a filling station at Sloat and Nineteenth Avenue, and she and Wolf traded places without another word.
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.