They didn’t have long to wait. They’d scarcely rolled back into the hospital parking lot when Rose stiffened and pointed.
Two people, a man and a woman, were getting out of a green car. The woman was tall with dark curly hair, and moved a bit stiffly. The man was a slightly built blond. They were both wearing iron rings on their right hands. They were dressed in business casual clothes, although the woman’s skirt was short.
“Rose,” said Mitch. “Are they your kind of people? Can you tell?”
Rose considered for a moment and shook her head. “I don’t think they are, Mitch. Or anyway, not much. They don’t know we’re here.”
“Okay then. Let’s take them quick and quiet, if we can.”
Wolf and Mitch got out of the car and walked toward the pair, who were now headed for the E.R. entrance.
There was an outer pair of doors and an inner pair, forming a closed entry hallway into the hospital, just about a dozen feet wide and long. Wolf and Mitch moved in perfect synchronization as they stepped up behind the pair in the entry hallway, smacked them left-handed across the backs of their heads, and threw their right arms around their chests before they went down.
“Did you plan that?” Wolf asked as he carried the man back out to the car.
“I thought I did,” said Mitch.
“Me too,” Wolf replied, his jaw tightening.
“Guilty as charged, Wolf,” said Rose as they opened the car’s back door. “It was the perfect move. You used it back in the garage.”
Wolf sat the man down into the passenger side of the back seat, and didn’t say anything.
“Jesus,” said Mitch, putting handcuffs on the woman in the seat from the other side and patting her down for weapons. “We should at least get a sheet. The back seat’s soaked with blood. Hey, Wolf.” He passed another set of handcuffs to Wolf.
“I know,” said Wolf with a grimace. “Smells awful.” He put the second pair of handcuffs on the man’s wrists, then he patted the man down for weapons and reached down and snagged both of the rings off their fingers.
“Your turn to drive, Mitch,” said Wolf, sitting down and inspecting the rings. “Paydirt. This ring’s got her picture under it,” he said, pointing at the woman. “And this one’s got the picture of the guy who was buying that guy’s parts today.”
None of them was sure who it was that decided their next destination. They just all knew what it was. These two had an appointment with the Jade Pagoda, and then it was back to Palo Alto to get David out of the VA hospital.
“I hate this,” said Rose, weakly. “My car is a damn mess. The hood’s dented where you took out that garage door, and it stinks in here, and … ” she trailed off, then made a gesture that took in the man and the woman and the rings. “… and those are … ugh. Filthy.” Tears started leaking from her eyes. “I feel like I’m never going to be clean again.”
“Funny thing,” Wolf said. “I hate this too. But that’s good. I didn’t want to like it.” The car stunk of blood and fear and nausea, and like a faint miasma that sickened him all the more, the scent of the Hook himself clung to the man. At least, he thought, in its way it was better than finding the smell of revenge too sweet.
Mitch rolled down the drivers’ window for some cleaner air and said, “We rained on his parade today. We got three of his pawns, alive. We saved one of his other victims. We planted some protection in David’s room at the hospital. We got a couple people here who might be witnesses if we can get them out from under his thumb. And the day isn’t even half over.”
“How are we going to get these two into the museum?” Wolf wanted to know.
“Don’t worry,” said Rose. “We’re just doing what needs done. It won’t even raise an eyebrow.” Wolf and Mitch exchanged a glance.
After parking the Decoupage Coupe in the Museum garage, Wolf and Mitch got the pair of them out of the back of the car. Wolf felt as conspicuous as a grizzly bear at a formal dress ball, but Rose walked ahead as though nothing was awry, so he and Mitch trailed after her carrying one unconscious, handcuffed person apiece. As Rose had promised, if anyone saw anything even slightly unusual about that, they kept it to themselves.
Rose had not expected the Jade Pagoda to hurt. But the pounding in her head got worse and worse as they approached it, until finally she was gasping and reeling. “You guys go on,” she said. “I’ll catch up to you.”
“Rose?” said Wolf. “You gotta come with us.”
She looked blearily at him. “What do you care?” she said, gesturing at the woman he carried. “I can’t take shelter right now, it’s all about those two waking up where the Hook can’t get to them.”
“No,” said Wolf. “It’s about you too. Rose, I don’t know you very well, but you haven’t been yourself today. You need to come with us.”
The woman on his shoulder woke up and began to kick, but he showed her the ring he had on the tip of his pinky and told her to be quiet. She went limp instantly. Or not quite limp. She was rubbing herself against him, slowly, sensuously, deliberately.
Wolf, Rose could tell, was doing his best to ignore it. But he could smell her, the sudden sexual heat of her, and even this close to the Pagoda, Rose could feel her response to his command. “Come on,” Wolf said.
“Ugh,” Rose replied. “At least if I get close to the Pagoda I can feel cleaner.” She was disturbed to so suddenly find Wolf such a very sexy man. Damnit damnit damnit, she thought, he can smell that from me too, can’t he?
Wolf gave no sign. He just reached down and took Rose’s hand and tugged her on toward the pagoda. Was she obeying him because he was right? Or because of the ring he was wearing? Rose couldn’t tell. But onward she came behind him, her head pounding and her balance shaky as she struggled to reach the center once again.
Finally they were at the Pagoda. Wolf set the woman on her feet, and slowly, it captured her attention. He led her to it, and she stared, more and more intensely, at the stone carving behind the glass. Finally she began to weep. “Oh my God,” she said, “What have I been doing?”
“It’s over now,” Wolf said. “You belong to you.”
They said more, but Rose didn’t hear them. The pagoda which had once offered her sanctuary seemed to be ripping great chunks of her away instead. She was lost in its world, and parts of herself were being cut away just as surely as those carvers had cut away the jade that wasn’t here from the original boulder. Her breath had grown shallow. The blood was rushing in her ears and her head was pounding with a kind of pain she’d never experienced except when she’d tripped on someone having a severe migraine attack. It seemed to her that the bottom had fallen out of her world, and she was falling endlessly into a chasm of isolation. As her muscles got weaker she found herself shaking. “What … is … happening to me?” she whispered. Then she whimpered wordlessly, and sank slowly to the floor.
The other pawn hadn’t woken up yet; or if he had, he gave no sign. Wolf knelt beside Rose, keeping a wary eye on both of the pawns, and cradled her head. “You gonna be okay?” he asked.
Rose didn’t know. Her head was pounding with pain and her ears were roaring. She tried to bring a hand up to touch Wolf’s hand, but she was weak and her hand was shaking badly. Alarmed, she put it down again. Her vision was blurring from tears. She broke out in a clammy sweat.
“Rose?” said Wolf. “Girl, you smell sick. Do we need to take you back to the hospital too?” Rose heard him distantly, his voice sounding somehow weird, as though she were at the bottom of a well.
“No….” she said. “I’m… I don’t know.” Her head was hurting so bad, it was so hard to put together a coherent thought.
“Rose, you take any prescription medicines?” Mitch asked.
Mute, she shook her head.
“Been taking anything else?”
“You sure? Shallow breathing, cold sweats, shaking, weak … This is looking like a junky looks during detox.”
“I ain’t been taking nothing at all, Mitch,” she said, finding speech but slipping helplessly into her girlhood language, the patois of rural Louisiana.
“Rose,” said Wolf. “That’s not true, honey. You’ve been taking people today.” Silence hung thick in the air for a few moments after he spoke.
Then there was a low moan from the other pawn. When he opened his eyes and saw Mitch, he bared his teeth and growled gutterally. But, quickly, his breathing quickened to a pant and his eyes began to roll wildly. Mitch struggled to retain control of him as he went into convulsions.
Turning around, the woman at the pagoda spotted the man struggling in Mitch’s arms and shrieked. “Joey! you fucking … bastard!” She took three quick steps and kicked him in the crotch. Rose whimpered, expecting to feel his pain. But in the shadow of the pagoda, the pain never came. The pounding in her head went on unchanged as he lapsed back into unconsciousness. Mitch turned around quickly, putting his body between the two, and Wolf set Rose’s head down and sprang up to restrain the woman again, intercepting her neatly as she tried to come around Mitch.
“No fair,” said Wolf conversationally as he put her in a headlock. “You don’t get to beat him up if it doesn’t do anybody any good. That’s our house rules.”
“That bastard,” she snarled, “raped me. He raped me more ways than I care to count, and he — he … ” she trailed off, at a loss for words.
” … somehow made you want him to,” finished Wolf. “But that wasn’t him, really, was it?”, he said, showing her his pinky. “Who gave him this ring?”
Gradually, she went limp, staring at her own picture under the cheap glass stone, and she began to cry. Wolf took off the ring and tried to hand it to her. “Look,” he said, “It’s not your fault. What’s your name, anyhow?”
“I’m Anne,” she said miserably. “I don’t know where he got ’em. He just … Joey had all these rings. I don’t want to touch them, ever. Not again.” She pointed at his jacket pocket.
Mitch dipped a hand into his pocket and found three more rings. “Holy shit,” he said. “This one’s got David’s picture in it.”
“Let me see ’em,” said Wolf. Mitch passed them over. “I recognize this other one. This is the guy they’ve got guarding David’s room. I don’t know who the woman on the last one is though. Looks like Joey’s job today was dealing with hospitals.”
“We were going to kill them,” said the woman, flatly. “That was what Joey said we were supposed to do. First the ones who didn’t die this morning, then the black cop. We were supposed to just walk in and show them their rings and tell them to die and they were going to do it.”
“We gotta get David,” said Mitch. “Rose, you figure those watches of yours will have had time to work yet?”
Rose was holding her head. “Ugh,” she said. “Probably. If they’re going to.”
Joey woke up again. His eyes opened, but didn’t focus. He made a wordless sound.
“Joey,” Mitch said. “Talk to us.”
Joey’s eyes drifted around, seeing without seeing.
“Joey?” said Anne. “I … it’s over now.”
His eyes found her face, finally, and for a moment his face showed recognition; but then tears came to his eyes, and he shrank back into himself making a keening sound.
“Shit,” said Mitch. “Rose? Thought you said this thing would help?” He cast a worried eye at Rose. She was standing up again, but still holding her head. She looked like hell, he thought.
“There’s nothing for him to stay Lost in,” said Rose. “This … This is him. Or what’s left of him.”
“I’m … not what I was anymore either,” said Anne quietly. “I … I’m out from under the command, but I’m not out from under the memories. And if we leave here I may have to obey whoever has that ring again. ”
“Crap thinking,” said Wolf with a scowl. “That’s only true if you believe it.”
Rose tried to smile at her, but as far as Mitch could tell it wasn’t very convincing. “Here,” she said, shrugging out of her brocade duster. “Take this.”
“I … I can’t,” Anne said. “Thanks though.”
“Look,” said Mitch. “I hate to break this up, but we gotta put you two somewhere and get down to the VA hospital and get David out of there, now. If you were supposed to kill him, he doesn’t have much time. Rose, you getting through it?”
Rose nodded. “I still feel like crap,” she said, “but at least it doesn’t feel like there’s a spike behind my eye anymore.”
“There’s time to sort it out later then,” said Mitch. “Let’s go.”
Several people stared at them as they went back out to the car. Joey and Anne trailed behind Wolf. Rose and Mitch came behind.
“I gotta get some dog food,” said Joey, in unison with somebody across the street.
“He’s Lost again,” said Rose. “Damnit.”
“Oh, no, King can’t be lost,” Joey said, “I just left him at home”.
“Get in the car, Harold,” Rose told him, and both he and the real Harold, across the street, got into cars.
“Drive north, Wolf,” said Rose. “They gotta get shelter, and Philo and Indra’s place is the only real shelter place we can get to right now.”
“What makes you think Indra will do anything for these guys?” Wolf said. “She wasn’t up for helping you.”
“We had options,” Rose said. “These two don’t. We weren’t Lost. This guy is. We weren’t broken. These two are. Indra does what she does because she hurts. Well, these two hurt too, and like calls out to like. She’ll shelter them.”
Wolf tried one more time to give Anne’s ring to her, but she squeaked and shrank away again like he’d offered to hand her a scorpion. He shook his head and started to drive.
“Damph gespatchen, Rose?” inquired Alex, crowding next to his brother into the doorway sleepily.
“Yeah, hello,” she said, gesturing to where Anne and Joey stood. “Look, we got a couple Lost Ones who need help. Is Indra around?”
“Kreff aggle,” Axel replied. “Dremph Indra con farran, kell itra Philo.”
“Okay, let’s talk to him,” she said with a shrug.
Axel headed back into the warehouse, and Alex stayed with them.
“You know,” said Mitch, watching him go, “sometimes I think I almost understand what they’re saying. Indra’s not around and he’s going to get Philo, right?”
Rose nodded. “Turns out Philo is the one who actually owns the place. Indra pays him rent. You’d understand the twins better if you didn’t pay as much attention to the words.”
“Kerrell tonna,” said Alex with a head-shake.
“Yeah,” said Mitch, looking at him speculatively. “You are still right here, aren’t you?”
They hadn’t long to wait. Philo came pelting down the hallway dressed in a psychedelic velvet smoking jacket, an ostrich-plume hat, moleskin pants, and socks, with Axel trailing behind him. “Holy shit,” he said skidding the last ten feet. “Am I glad to see you guys!”
“Hi, Philo,” said Rose. “Good to see you too. Look, these two need help. The guy is just plain Lost, and I think both of them are, uh, still broken somehow.”
“Okay, we got a couple lock-down rooms for Lost Randoms in back,” Philo said, “and they can cool their jets there for a while. Hustle, we ain’t got much time!” He grabbed Anne’s hand and started running back the way he’d come. Joey pelted after him, matching wild stride for wild stride and dragging Wolf by the hand.
“What’s your emergency, Philo?” Wolf huffed, running to keep up.
Philo did a double-take on Wolf and slowed down, then said, “Indra’s gone stray. I think she’s Lost. I’ll take care of these two, but I need you and the cop to promise me you’ll try to get her back.”
“Okay, here we go, sweetheart,” Philo said to Anne as they arrived at a doorway. “This here’s the old break room. There’s a couch, there’s munchies in the vending machine, there’s a sink, and the bathroom is through there. But, we’re going to have to lock this door ’till we get back, okay?”
Anne looked around herself, then sat down on the couch. She nodded. “Thanks,” she said quietly.
“Oh, man, it’s pretty damn bad, isn’t it?” Philo said, catching sight of crisscrossed whip scars under the flimsy fabric of her shirt.
“This is how bad it is,” growled Wolf, showing him her ring. “This other one’s even worse.”
“Oh. Oh, man. Like that girl in the truck.” Philo shied away from the ring, then shook his head. “Separate rooms, for sure.”
“My partner’s in the same boat,” Mitch said, catching up. “We have to go get him and I mean now.”
“Hey,” Philo called to Anne. “Grab a shirt out of the cabinet for the cop here.”
Anne nodded and crossed to one of the cabinets. Pulling out one of Philo’s outlandish, oversized silk creations, she brought it to the door. “Here,” she said.
“How’d you know I was a cop?” Mitch asked, pulling it on.
“Stupid question,” said Philo. “I’m a Chicano, I get a lot of practice, you know?”
“You guys always give out tickets for driving while brown,” Joey continued in the same cadence. “After a while somebody learns to look out.”
“I wasn’t going to say that,” Philo said, “but whatever.”
“Jeez, let’s get him into a room, he’s starting to give me the creeps,” Joey replied.
“I wasn’t going to say that, either,” said Mitch, “but whatever.”
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.