A beeping rendition of the “Ode to joy” twittered as they contemplated Rose’s last statement. Mitch dug in his bag and pulled out one of his phones.
“Yeah,” he said. His bag beeped music again. He swore and dug out a different phone. “Hello?”
“Detective Flanagan? This is Lucy DeCourtney. Is my daughter okay?” The voice on the line was nearly frantic.
Mitch said, “Yeah, just a minute,” and passed the phone to Rose. “Rose? It’s your mom.”
“Mom?” Rose said. “It’s so good to hear your voice.”
“Oh, God, Rose,” Lucy said. “You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you.”
“Things have been pretty crazy,” Rose acknowledged. “But I’m okay. Mom … Were you in San Francisco yesterday?”
“Yes,” Lucy said, “But I … I guess you call it getting Lost … and I wound up back in N’Orleans. ”
“Oh, Mom, I’m so glad you’re okay,” Rose said. “I would really really love to have had a chance to talk to you, it’s been nuts here.”
“Honey?” Lucy said. “You’re in danger, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Rose replied quietly.
“I went to your house and there were strangers there,” Lucy said. “Some of them were police, but the one who talked to me… he was something else.”
“Wait,” Rose said. “There were people at my house yesterday?”
At this bit of news, Mitch, David, Sonia, and Wolf all looked up.
“Yes,” Lucy said. “What is this all about, Rose?”
“Well Mom, this is tough… but Detective Flanagan is chasing a killer, and he’s after us all.”
“Oh, Rose, sweetie, you get out of there,” Lucy said.
“Mom,” Rose said, “I’m not gonna. This is something I have to do. It’s something all of us have to do.”
“Oh, Rose… why?” Lucy said. “Why can’t you just get away and be safe?”
“Mom,” Rose said. “The killer … we think it’s … uh … I think it’s the man who raped you twenty-three years ago.”
Lucy made a little choking noise, and then the silence grew longer, too long. “Mom, I’m sorry for just dumping that on you,” Rose went on awkwardly. “But … you see. I have to do this.”
“Oh … sweetie, Rose, you don’t have to …”
“Yeah, Mom. I do have to,” Rose said. “It’s not just me, it’s not just us. He’s killing people, Mom. Innocent people. He’s got to be stopped, and he’s … well, you know. He’s hard to stop. Can I ask you one thing? You remember that nightmare we used to have? The one with the bad fairy that wanted to take me away?”
“… yes ….” said Lucy, her voice breaking.
“That was him, wasn’t it?” Rose’s voice was flat, tight. “That’s what he looks like.”
The silence grew too long again, but finally, Lucy’s voice came over the phone. “Yes,” she whispered.
“If … if it’s okay, mom, Detective Flanagan wants to talk to you,” Rose said.
“Oh, Rose … You take care, daughter. You be careful.”
“I will, Mom,” Rose said. Then she passed the phone to Mitch.
“Ms. DeCourtney?” Mitch said, “I have to ask you a few questions.”
Across from him, Rose began to quietly cry. It was gradual. At first tears began to leak from her eyes, and then she began to sniffle. Finally, the first sobs came. Wolf opened his arms to her and she leaned against him, snuffling into his coat.
Mitch hung up the phone. “Okay,” he said. “I’m thinking the blonde guy she talked to at Rose’s house was probably our fake FBI agent.”
“I’m thinking so too,” said Rose, “but the story doesn’t work.”
Mitch sat down. “Why doesn’t it?”
“If she got Lost,” said Rose, “she’d still be Lost. If she’d gone somewhere, the odds against it being home are … Gods, Mitch, if you picked a random number out of the phone book, what are the odds it would belong to you? And if she’d bought a ticket while she was Lost, she wouldn’t have been the same person long enough to use it.”
“Well, she probably bought a two-way ticket, so she’d have had the return ticket in her purse, right?” Mitch said.
Rose shook her head. “How would she know to go to the airport, Mitch?”
“A fair number of people go to the airport every day,” said Mitch. “Maybe she got mixed up with one of them?”
Rose shook her head. “No, somebody who’s Lost tends to stay away from airports. The airport is … jitters, you know? Annoyance, hassles, stress … If she was Lost she’d be getting mixed up with people who were going away from the place instead of people going into it, because they’re all feeling sort of relieved. And if she was at the airport and mixed up with somebody who was going somewhere, she’d tell the people behind the counter the other person’s name and the city the other person was going to, and she’d have the wrong ID and ticket.”
“But the airport is also reunions and vacations and happy things too, right?” Mitch said.
Rose shrugged. “Not mostly. Happy stuff starts when people get away from the airport, especially since the security stupidity about nine eleven started.”
“Okay,” Mitch said. “So, Lost people don’t hang around airports and don’t get on planes.”
Rose shook her head.
“So, is there any chance Lucy wasn’t really Lost?” Mitch said. “She told me it had never happened to her before, so she doesn’t really know what it’s like, right? What if it was something else?”
Wolf came over to the table with three glasses of iced tea and sat down. “What else?” He said.
“I … I don’t know,” Rose replied.
“Rose … ” Mitch said.
Wolf shook his head and laid a hand on his arm. “She doesn’t know, Mitch.” He sipped at his iced tea. “Ain’t no lead here, but I think Sonia and David got something. They’re in the bedroom.”
“‘Scuse me a minute,” Mitch said, and got up to go to the bedroom.
Wolf reached a hand over to touch Rose’s arm. “It’s okay, Rose,” he said. “Just take a breath. Then take another. And another. You’re going to be okay.”
“He … he doesn’t even know, does he?” Rose said.
“He’s all about catching this killer,” Wolf replied. “I think he knows it might hurt, but it’s his job, and more than just a job. He has to do what he has to do. And so do we.”
Rose put her other hand on top of his. “Yeah,” she said. “We all do what we have to do. Even the killer, I think.”
Wolf nodded. “Could be,” he said.
“What if it’s … you know, what if it’s just his nature? What he is, what he has to be?”
“Sometimes,” Wolf replied, “out on my Dad’s ranch, the coyotes will start taking calves. It ain’t because they’re evil, you know, it’s just because they’re coyotes and they’re hungry and … well, hungry coyotes, some of them, will start going for the calves instead of the deer mice and jack rabbits.”
“And what happens then?” Rose said.
“Then we hunt the coyotes down and we kill ’em,” said Wolf. “‘Cause we’re people and they’re our calves and that’s what we do.”
“Is it justice, Wolf?” Rose asked. “Is it justice when you kill a coyote just for being a coyote?”
Wolf shrugged. “Got nothin’ against coyotes,” he said. “There’s coyotes that’ve been on Dad’s ranch for fifteen years, but if they stick to the deer mice and the jack rabbits, we get along. It’s only when some of them start getting into the calves that we have to have a hunt. It ain’t about justice,” he said, “It ain’t even about vengeance anymore. It’s just about doing what we have to do.”
In the middle of the night, Rose got up again. She’d been having a nightmare, but it wasn’t the old familiar nightmare she’d shared with her mom. It was a nightmare far far creepier than that. It was a nightmare about being secretly the Queen of the World, about people having to do whatever she wanted them to … all the time. In her nightmare, she’d wanted Wolf. And she’d just reached out with her mind and taken him. She’d made him her own, turned him into her plaything. She could still feel his hands on her body, still taste his lips on hers, as she swung her legs down off the kitchen table.
With her mind whirling, she padded over to the sink. She ran herself a glass of water and drank it, silently. What the heck was going on? She couldn’t deny that, on some level, she wanted Wolf. She wanted his strong hands on her, she wanted to be … what? But she couldn’t have him. She’d get … Lost in him if she did. She’d go crazy and take him with her.
Except …. If she just took him. If she just took what she wanted, then she wouldn’t get Lost; she’d be in control, it would be him who was Lost instead. This was the horrible part of the nightmare. And the worst thing about it was that she knew it was true. But … she couldn’t just take what she wanted, because that wasn’t what she wanted. Damnit.
She ran another glass of water, then set it down and splashed water from the tap onto her face. Was this what it was like? Was this what had happened to … to her father? Oh, crap. What if … what if she was just like him? What if he had just gotten lonelier and lonelier because of what he couldn’t have, until he started taking … taking what he could? And missing the love he couldn’t have, he’d have started to resent and finally hate everyone who could. Oh yeah, she could understand that. She’d spent her time resenting people in love, too. And with enough loneliness, enough jealousy, enough resentment, enough hate, and enough years to let it work on her … she’d turn into ….
“Goddess, hear my prayer,” she whispered. “Please don’t let this nightmare come true. Don’t let me be the … this dark thing. Please let me have the strength and the courage to … to do what I have to do.” She splashed water on her face again and started to get dressed.
In the morning, Rose was gone.
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.