A Time For Crows
I slipped out of the bathroom and made my way back to the cluster of officers in between the aquarium and the door. Sure, part of me wanted to just keep on slipping, make sure the woman was okay, and then vanish. I hadn’t had to give a statement to the police since after Earl, and back then, it was anything but pleasant. But it’d be stupid to leave.
And as if on cue, Detective McPherson turned from the other officers and lifted his finger to me. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“Sure,” I said, and stepped over to the aquarium ignoring the other visitors to the ER as much as they did me, just like Mr. Dignified over there pretending not to watch me from the corner of his eye.
The cops were better at pretending not to watch, and while I tried to listen to what they were saying, they spoke low and their voices washed along in ambience of the aquarium pump trickling and filtering water and the TV reporting the late news.
To my left stood a table with flyers dominating one half from Franksburg Metropolitan Museum, featuring a picture of a Bowie-like knife with swirling patterns that could be described as spell forms forged into the blade. The caption read “Treasures from the Ancient World.” That knife was one of the reasons for going to the museum this morning with Jenny, which I’ll get to in a bit.
The other half of the table held a stack of magazines: National Geographic, Business Week, Sports Illustrated, and so on. The magazine Insider was on top, and it featured Mara Osgood, looking hot and rich. Seemed I couldn’t be rid of that woman. Her story headline said, “Be two places at once.” I used to know her when she still shopped at Walmart as a way of rebelling against her family, but that was a long time ago. Maybe now though she was breaking out of the playgirl stereotype and taking her family’s business seriously.
I turned toward the TV across the waiting room, featuring the story of the renovations taking place in the Old District part of Franksburg captained by the Buchannens. The church over there, which was part of the renovations, had an angel that had had its head lost for years. The renovators had just found its head and not too far from where Jenny and I had found the woman. She could use an angel right about now.
The camera shot returned to the anchors with Jackson Higgs saying, “Who knows? Maybe Franksburg finally has found its guardian angel—”
“You believe in angels?” Detective McPherson said.
I raised my brow and turned to him. “Do you?”
“Touché,” McPherson said, taking a seat on one of the red chairs. He leaned forward. “You doing okay?”
Adrenaline aftershocks still troubled my fingers and ankles. When I’d found the woman, god, there was so much blood. The rain hadn’t helped janitor it away, just thinned and spread—so much. Everywhere. The blood stench had mixed with the rain and sour trash and gutter smell, smeared with motor oil. Even now I still tasted blood when I exhaled. And the people and things cutting her and chanting, had whooped, and honest-to-god guffawed, with their ritual. And what was worse, if you could call it that, is that Jenny and I hadn’t gotten them all, and in fact after the initial predator response wore off, they’d chased us here. And why that was worse, was because if I was right—they’d be at it again to another woman, just like the woman I’d brought in tonight—and if they caught her, then one more for thirteen in all. And I still didn’t know who was behind it, or how to stop them, or why and how someone could do this to another human being.
So was I doing okay? Instead of answering Detective McPherson, I just said: “I’m going to wait here for her.”
Of course you are, you sentimental turd, Eddy said.
I inwardly gave him the bird.
Don’t worry, Eddy sighed, I’ll keep a looks on things.
“So how do you know her?” the detective said.
“Huh. Okay. But you realize she matches the profile of the women who’ve been disappearing?”
“And that could put you in some serious shit.”
I nodded again.
“Then why do it?”
I knew this question was coming, and I needed to answer carefully, but truthfully. “Because, I was there. And she needed help. I couldn’t walk away.”
“What about now? Why stay?”
I leaned forward. “I imagine in your line of work, you’ve been there when people pass?”
“Happen a lot?”
He just nodded.
“And when you know the person’s a victim, not the perp, but maybe even then sometimes, but they’re on their last, their way out, do you just walk away? Or do you hold their hand, maybe even lie to them, say it’s going to be okay, and then ask them to tell you about something happy?”
“You got field experience?”
“You could say that.”
“Contractor.” I just didn’t tell him that the contracting I’d done was for Earl’s old order, the Council and Order of Knights of the White Dawn. Guess Jenny was still an active member of the Order too, but I always just thought of it as Earl’s order.
“She’d stopped breathing in the car.”
“Probably because of how fast you was going.” He smiled.
“Probably. And then when she opened her eyes when we got here, and reached for me, and screamed out ‘Teddy,’ well, there’s hope she’ll make it. I want to make sure.”
The lights flickered again. I looked up.
You see anything? I asked Eddy.
Not sure. I’m working on it.
McPherson pulled out a pen and a small notepad from his breast pocket. “I’m old school. You mind?”
“I’d mind if you didn’t.”
He chuckled. “Most people say ‘yes’ thinking that means ‘no, they don’t mind.’ You’re sharp. But, you didn’t really answer my question. Why? Why stay?”
I opened my hands. Here goes. “Twelve years ago, I lost someone. Her name was Ann. And, this woman reminds me of her.”
“She have red hair too?”
“No. Just something about her.”
“Uh-huh. Well,” he said and leaned forward, “we’ve got to figure out what happened here, but if I had a daughter, and something like this happened to her, well, I just hope someone wouldn’t look the other way.” He tapped his pen on his bottom lip, studying me for a moment. “You’re that Joyce fella, aren’t you?”
My heart thudded a bit. “Joe Joyce.”
“Yeah, thought I recognized you. Don’t worry, I’m on your side. Followed the trial in the papers. This is back before I was reassigned to Franksburg, you understand. You know what won me over?”
“Doubt you could be—”
He chuckled again. “Sharp. But seriously, I knew you was innocent. It’s not when you stood up and yelled at the court to ‘take the damn money.’ It’s when Mrs. Wayne wouldn’t accept your offer. You know what that tells me?”
I couldn’t meet his eyes—memories were too painful. I never blamed Mrs. Wayne for what Earl did; she never pressed charges. But there was a body, and I was there, and Earl had left a fat wad of money. I still checked up on her. “No,” I said.
He leaned forward, jabbing his pen toward my chest. “It tells me that she knew you’d gone through enough shit. That’s what it tells me. If she had even suspected you was guilty of murdering that old boy, she would have taken it. Not because she needed it, you understand, but because it was hers, and her husband’s.”
“I wish she would have.”
“What do you do now?”
The lights flickered again, with a slight buzz, whirring through the hospital.
Boss, where’d that dignified-looking chap go? Eddy said.
Can’t you track his energy signature?
It’s messy. I need a better look.
“I own a kombucha shop,” I said to McPherson and looked around. Helped that the lights just flickered. The fat couple on oxygen still sat in their waiting chairs, dosing, as did a few others. But Mr. Dignified had indeed gone. So did one of the officers—the other one was asleep, slumped in one of the waiting chairs.
My heart started picking up.
Energy signature goes right through the emergency doors, Eddy said.
“Do you have any officers waiting by the woman?” I said.
McPherson took on a calculating look. The whole “I’m on your side” friendly veneer vanished. “Excuse me?”
I stood. “She’s in danger.”
“You stay put—” McPherson began.
The lights went out.