The message is terse. It always is, but the cryptic shit is new. Yeah, he can get to Ford City, Nebraska, but he's found no sign pointing to that yellow-eyed bastard leaving the golden shores of California.
Yellow Eyes is probably still tasting the ash that had been Sammy's girlfriend as sweet flakes in the back of his throat.
He can't, he just can't take a break right now, no matter what other case pops up. Someone else can take on whatever's going down in Nebraska. Not me he texts.
Has to be you, John. Caleb texts back. Joshua says.
Who the fuck does Joshua think he is? And it's not like Caleb to play messenger so passively. Joshua had to have a pretty damn convincing sales pitch, but John knows he can learn more from talking to Caleb, can get Caleb's read on Joshua too, layers of meaning and shades of intention. He can pick them apart, no problem. Always been good at that, even drunk, one level sliding off another, each lit up amber as it flashed before his eyes.
He's stone-cold sober when he dials Caleb's number. He can hear his own heavy breaths.
"Caleb. Tell me."
"Step right this way, Detective," the man says, thin and nervous, hands fluttering like small birds.
He likes being a detective, the way that TV and movies have primed people to think of them as higher up than cops, allowed to bring steaming cups of coffee into crime scenes, not mocked for being doughnut-munching lard-asses. He breathes the caffeine deep, letting the aroma cut through the thick smell of chlorine staining the muggy air.
John looks around; he can see twenty-three different ways to die in this room right now. "Why don't you tell me what the problem is, sir?"
"Strange noises. And blinking lights. And cold air," John summarizes. He's going to kill Caleb and Joshua for insisting his boys had to stay clear of this. Why? "Anything else?"
"Well, the deaths too," the man says almost apologetically, as if he's to blame for John's incomplete information.
The pang in his gut grows uselessly sharper. "How many deaths?"
"Four. All in the last few weeks. The first three looked like accidents, but this last one didn't, so the cops came back out."
"Any links between them?"
"Just the timing, Detective. All happened a little after four in the afternoon."
His soles are dry but the tang of chlorine sticks with him. The library is warm and cozy, but the last thing he wants is another sweet-smelling volunteer demonstrating how to use the microfilm machine. All he needs is plain information.
But there's a big glossy photo on the checkout desk and a spray of flowers resting in front of it. Recent death - those flowers are real, and they're fresh. Seems a little quick to be one of the four victims, though.
Could be she's the angry spirit killing the rest. The engraved placard within the frame says Layla Rourke.
Layla couldn't hold a candle to his Mary, he thinks. Layla had actually been almost the same age as Mary when she died, though she'd had a chance to get used to the idea, could set all her affairs in order.
He can't find anything that would make this girl lash out at four of her neighbors at the community pool. She died in a hospital bed, her mother holding her hand, everything clean and white and calm.
He shuts his eyes and tries to ignore the flames and blonde hair twining behind them. He turns to the victims next.
Was there something special about this last one, something that set her apart from the previous three? April Hixon, sixteen, planning on the Olympics instead of college: medley, relay, and 200 meter backstroke.
The first picture tells the same story. Head like an egg under the bathing cap. Stocky body solidly packed with muscle. Probably outweighed half the boys in her class.
But in the second picture, she's cute, feminine; her hair is dry and she's grinning out at the camera, bright freckles glittering like jewels in the sunlight. He looks and sees a kid, a freckle-faced kid like Dean.
No way future Olympian April drowned in that pool. The others might've slipped, sure, been careless maybe, but April wouldn't have been fooling around. Not when she had to give up hanging out with her friends after school to do her laps. Not when she had a driving purpose in her heart.
There's another strange death referenced in the article, another hometown athlete. A man this time, training for a regional triathlon. Guy's name was Marshall Hall.
He gets up to find that back issue and passes under Layla Rourke's watchful eyes. Girl's kind of creepy-looking, if you ask him.
The triathlete was gay and not at all shy about it. No wonder there wasn't much of a hero's funeral for him when he keeled over. Not a lot of friends willing to say they mourned him. Not even a boyfriend, or partner, whatever, brave enough to stand over his grave. Not an acceptable way of life around here.
If he were in those dead shoes, he'd probably be pretty pissed too. Maybe even enough to kill.
The picture of Hall with medals around his neck is uncomfortably familiar. John's gut is screaming now. He knows he's got the guy.
Digging the lonely grave, he thinks. The article said Hall had a heart attack. Too young for that, he would've thought. But he remembers Sammy's voice breaking on a plea for help, a tale of woe. He casts that out of his mind when his shovel hits wood.
He jumps down and opens the coffin up. Hall's decomposing slowly enough for the horror on his face to still register.
He salts, douses, and wraps the body and burns it to dust. "No more killing, Marshall," he says; this one's gotten under his skin. "I'll take care of whatever got you."