Sonia let them in. Mitch and Wolf looked around, startled at the overwhelming clutter of things in Sonia’s living room. Bookshelves stretched from floor to ceiling. There were books on them, but in front of the books, there was a bewildering arrangement of things; jade statues, beaten copper bracelets, knives and a few swords, masks, blown and kiln-cast glass, and pottery. Tapestries, macrame projects, and bad amateur paintings hung in layers on the walls behind the shelves. Boxes of books, old game boards, and beadwork were on the floor behind every chair. Obsolete, broken laptop computers and televisions filled the gaps between the books on the bottom row.
The chair Sonia sat in was lumpy; She had re-upholstered it with handwoven cloth, using macrame plant hangers for stuffing.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Sonia. I’m a friend of Rose’s.” She shrugged. It was clearly an awkward moment. “So, Rose told me on the phone that the shit has hit the fan and none of you can go home.”
“Uh, you could say that,” said Mitch.
She waited until they had all found places to sit, then got up and headed for the kitchen. “Anybody want something to drink?” She said. “I got tea, a couple kinds of soda, milk, or juice.”
“No thanks,” Wolf said. Mitch just shook his head.
Sonia poured herself some juice and got a can of coke for Rose, then crossed back to her chair. Sitting, she set the glass down precariously on the arm of the chair, then turned her hands up in a shrug. “So how bad is it, anyway?”
“Pretty damn bad,” Rose said, from where she was sitting on the floor in the corner. “Mitch’s partner David is dancing to the Hook’s tune and we think he’s got the police working with him.”
“Rose?” Mitch said. “Should we be telling Sonia about this?”
Rose looked back at him. “I trust her, Wolf. I trust her more than I trust anybody else in this city.” Then she shrugged. “Besides, if we can’t trust her, we’re screwed. The two of us are going to be sleeping in the same house, and whether we like it or not we’re probably going to be having the same dreams.”
Sonia grinned ruefully, but Wolf smelled her fear on her, and she knew it and Rose knew it. Sonia made no outward sign beyond the trembling of the hand that held her coffee cup, but the idea of sharing dreams with Rose scared her.
“Maybe if I’m in the bedroom and you’re at the other end of the place in the kitchen, it won’t happen that way,” she said. “This is … um … awkward. I’ve never had guests here before. Where do you guys want to sleep?”
Rose shrugged. “I can take the kitchen. I’ll make a bed on the table. Wolf, you and Mitch can have the living room, it’s got two couches,” she said. Kitchen and bedroom, she and Sonia were thinking. That’s good enough to keep us from getting tangled up in dreams together. But it was more something they hoped together than something they knew.
Wolf nodded. “You can make a decent bed in the kitchen if you take the chair cushions from here,” he said.
“I got quilts,” Sonia said. “They’re in the hall closet.”
“Um,” said Sonia, shaking Rose’s shoulder. “Time to get up, sleepyhead.” Sonia was standing next to the kitchen table, dressed in a frazzled old housecoat that someone had covered with embroidery.
Rose woke with a start and a gasp. Her head bobbled around in confusion and distress as she sat up and drew the blanket around her head. Then she realized where she was and exhaled, in a great gasp, and started breathing again. “Oh, Goddess, Sonia, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t want to bring that old nightmare into your home.”
“No need to apologize, Rose,” said Sonia with a sympathetic shrug. “You don’t get to pick your dreams, and anyway I didn’t trip on it until I got up for breakfast and came into the kitchen. I just figured you’d be happier awake.” She opened the refrigerator, covering the awkward pause by pouring herself some milk. “Been having that one since you were actually that little?”
Rose nodded, swinging her legs down off the table. “Yeah… my mom always thought of me as the changeling child, and I guess my kid brain made that bad fairy out of it.” She sighed, stood up, and stretched. “I’m so sick of that dream,” she said. She picked up one of the lumpy chair cushions she’d been sleeping on. Then both of their heads swiveled toward the doorway where Wolf was suddenly standing.
His straight black hair was kinked and flattened on one side of his head, and his clothes looked as wrinkled as Rose’s. “I, uh…” Wolf held up a hand in a weak hello. “…didn’t mean to intrude. Sorry.”
“Oh, hell, Wolf,” said Rose. “It’s okay. It’s not like I’m ever alone inside my head anyway.”
Wolf shook his head sympathetically. “Still…” he said.
“It’s not like that for me,” Sonia said. “I … I mean, I get stuff but usually what I get from other people’s heads doesn’t make any sense in mine, it’s all jumbled up bits, except…” she trailed off “…except if it’s you. Or Mike. ”
“Who’s Mike?” Wolf wanted to know.
“Mike Clelland,” Mitch said from behind him, “is another one like Rose. His brother got killed last month.”
“Wait.” Wolf said, turning his head. “The police file mentions him by name?”
“Yes,” said Mitch.
Wolf turned around slowly. His face was grim. “Hook’s gonna go after him, if he hasn’t already,” he said. “Same as Rose, same as me.”
“Oh shit,” said Mitch, Rose, and Sonia in perfect unison. Then they all winced, again in perfect unison.
“Sorry,” Rose said, “I think that was me.”
“Uh, It felt like me,” Mitch replied.
“It always does,” Rose said with a pained expression. “There’s just no way to tell.”
“I’m going to call him,” Sonia said. “He’s an asshole, but he doesn’t deserve what the Hook would do to him.”
“Don’t,” said Wolf and Mitch at the same time. Then they looked at Rose, wondering.
“That wasn’t me,” she said. “Why not call him?”
“‘Cause the Hook has some cops, and we don’t know how many, in his pocket,” said Mitch. “They’re going to have a trace on Mike’s phone by now if they’re after him. If you call Mike, he’s going to know where you are before Mike even picks up the phone.”
“Well, we need to warn him,” Rose said.
“I don’t like being the one who brings this up,” said Mitch. “But this is the first time we know where the Hook’s going to be before he hits.”
Wolf regarded him coolly. “Remember what you told me in front of that camera place, Mitch? Going in shooting innocents ain’t much worse than using them as bait.”
An uncomfortable silence lengthened.
“Yeah,” said Mitch. “I don’t wanna use him as bait. But I don’t want to call him from here, cause we have to have someplace to sleep again tonight.”
“Okay then,” said Wolf. “Take a bus halfway across town, call him from a pay phone, and come back.”
“I hate to be the one to bring this up,” said Rose, “but what if the Hook’s already got to him? Picture it. Somebody calls him, he works out who they are or where they are, and the Hook comes after us.”
“Who won’t matter,” Wolf said. “Except for Sonia here, he already knows who. That’s why she’s not going to be the one making the call. As for where, that’s why the trip across town.”
“Mike knows Sonia though,” said Rose. “If he knows I can’t go home, Sonia’s is going to be his first guess as to where to find me.”
“Okay,” said Wolf. “We should tell him then. If the Hook’s got to him already, we’re screwed anyway. So we got nothing to lose by warning him. And we need to warn him because if the Hook does get him, it’s a risk to our position.”
“He’s right, Rose,” Mitch said. “I’ll go do it. If I’m not back in an hour, you guys bolt.” He’d been waiting to get into the kitchen, but now he picked up his coat and left without another word.
“Jesus,” Sonia said. “I knew this was serious, but now you’re scaring the hell out of me. You’re gambling with lives here.”
“Yeah,” said Wolf. He had found the coffee beans, and was looking around for a pot. “I’m real sorry if you didn’t realize that before, but that’s exactly true. And when you agreed to put us up for the night, you ante’d in.” He spread his hands and gave her a sympathetic look. “You can still kick us out if you want to try to get out of the game, but I can’t guarantee it’ll work.”
Sonia stood up, slowly. Wolf smelled her fear again, but she was quiet. Finally she handed him a stainless-steel lion with one paw raised for a pour spout and sat down in one of the chairs, pushing another cushion away and setting her glass of milk on the table. “You’re staying,” she said as calmly as she could. “However I can help take this guy down, I’ll help.”
Rose reached out and took her hand and squeezed it. They looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment. “Thanks,” Rose said finally.
“So… what should I do?” Sonia asked.
Rose and Wolf looked at each other and shrugged. “Just go to work like it’s a normal day, I guess,” Wolf said. “Nothing to attract any attention.”
“Oh,” Sonia said. “Right. Rose, you gonna be okay here?”
“Yeah,” said Rose.
After Sonia had gone to work, Wolf joined Rose in the kitchen and sat at the table, his notebook in front of him. They sipped coffee together from battered ceramic Santa Claus mugs. The silence grew. At first it was a comfortable silence, but then a thought drifted between them, and tension began to build. At first they decided to ignore it together, but then Wolf realized that there had to be a good reason to ignore something like this and he didn’t have one anymore.
“Y’know Rose…” Wolf said, uncomfortably.
“Hmm?” She glanced up.
“I’ve been waiting for a chance to talk to you in private a little. I’m thinking that, If the way he gets to people is through their crap thinking, you gotta stop yours.”
“Wolf, please don’t do this…” she said.
“I gave you some space back in the car,” Wolf said, “I gave you some time when Mitch wanted to know what was up. But now we’re just pretending, and we need to stop. This man Hook. I’m pretty sure he’s your father.”
“Yeah, I know you think so, Wolf, but you’re wrong, okay?” She turned away, biting her lip.
Wolf shook his head sadly. “No, Rose, I’m not wrong. I’m sorry, but it’s just true.” He spread his hands. “I can’t help what’s true. Neither can you. It sure as hell ain’t your fault. Ain’t your mom’s, either.”
“Damnit Wolf, can’t you just leave stuff alone?” Rose turned around, eyes blazing. “I could have lived a long happy life without knowing that, and you and your damn nose come along and I have to know it because of you! I have to know I smell like… ugh! Damnit Wolf, couldn’t you see I’d be happier just not ever… ” she broke off, her voice choked back to a sob.
“I’m sorry, Rose. I truly am,” Wolf said helplessly. “You know I don’t want to hurt you. But I knew it, and you knew I knew it. And goddamn it, it’s important. You can’t have something that important and pretend you don’t know it and pretend you don’t believe it and never talk about it. That’s crap thinking; it’ll make you crazy. The truth hurts, but lies keep hurting forever.”
Rose wasn’t sobbing, but there were tears on her cheeks. Her hands were balled up in fists at her sides, shaking. Wolf gazed into her green eyes, waiting for some kind of sign, as the silence grew longer.
Finally he reached out his right hand and touched her shoulder. “Rose…,” he said. “I’ll give you anything I can to help you deal with it. If you need somebody to talk to, or a shoulder to cry on, or somebody to just hold you for a while, it’s yours. But I absolutely can’t give you room to lie to yourself about it.”
“Why the hell not?!” she screamed, suddenly finding her voice. She lifted her right fist and swung it hard into his ribs, where it landed with a meaty thump.
Wolf flinched, but otherwise didn’t move. “Two reasons. First, maybe your mama knows who he is. But most important, because you’re better than that, Rose,” he said quietly. “People like us, people who know too many things about other people, we have to be honest with ourselves first. ‘Cause if we let ourselves believe lies we can… ” He broke off suddenly, not wanting to finish because he knew it would hurt.
We can turn out like your father. Rose heard it as plainly as if it had been spoken. “We can make ourselves crazy,” was what he said.
Slowly, he drew her in and folded her in his arms. She dug her face into the collar of his old overcoat and cried quietly as he stroked her red hair.
“Goddess, Wolf,” she sobbed, “I’m just – I feel all these other people all the damn time and I can’t even be alone inside my own head.” She burrowed her face into his shoulder, sniffling. “But when it comes down to something like this … it’s something I have to face alone. It just isn’t fair!” she choked.
“Nobody said life was fair, Rose,” said Wolf, surprised to find his own eyes tearing up along with hers. And nobody said you have to face it alone, he thought, but he didn’t say it.
She looked up suddenly, startled by what he hadn’t said. He just held her tighter.
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.