Featured Listing. Arklay Lifestyles. September Edition.
29 Rivercrest Road. Priced to sell!
Cute 950 sq. ft. Cape Cod in Raccoon City's Cider District. Located on a quiet street, large yard with a 12x8 deck, backing onto Memorial Park. Upgrades include shingles in 1992, flooring and furnace in 1994. The perfect home for a small family. Motivated seller, don't miss out.
September 5 1998 Raccoon City
There was enough evening sunlight for Irene to drive without headlights, but the streetlights and business signs were already lit. It was that half-hour of perfect brightness when every colour seemed more vivid, or perhaps more certain. The afternoon heat lingered, and the wandering locals were in good spirits. Their stride had a newfound summery jauntiness, and they were decked-out in their lively July clothing. The sidewalks were a wash of Hawaiian prints, tans and tropical pinks.
Irene cruised past the Emerald Avenue Dairy Queen. Cheerful neon and white fluorescent burned bright against the grounded sun. Young girls in cutoffs licked ice-cream from their boyfriends' cones and pranced between the parked cars like unbroken fillies. School started next week, and the youth were enjoying one last romp before fall-routine set back in. No doubt the RPD would be faced with its yearly brimful of Labour Day noise violations and public mischief complaints, but the sun had set on Raccoon City's Corrupted Summer, and the town was alive and heady.
Well, except for those who were still grieving lost loved-ones.
Irene wiped the thought away and pulled Rusty into the Crescent Road on-ramp. His valves hammered like typewriter keys, and he shuddered. She dropped five miles an hour and needed to downshift.
A quick check of the side-view mirror ensured she had swung wide enough to allow the trailer to clear. She sighed, depressed to see her entire life shoehorned into a twelve-by-eight U-Haul.
No turning back now.
She ground into fourth-gear; Rusty chugged ahead with a steam-engine's dogged persistence, and the speedometer needle began its slow sweep upward. It took a full minute to make an uneasy fifty-five. Raccoon City's familiar landscape flashed-by. To the right, the Big Sky travel plaza where she and Joe would get coffee and run radar. To the left, the Kubota dealership that had been broken-into last spring. Up ahead was the mile forty-seven highway marker where Lou Mancini pulled over that naked woman. All of it was familiar. All of it was tainted and ugly.
The road bent, and the sun highlighted the sandblasting on her windshield. She preferred travelling by night, even if it was a longer trip. There was less traffic, cooler weather, and the music was better. The eight-hour drive would deliver her in Baker Creek a half-hour early for breakfast.
Home, it should have instilled good feelings, or at least a nostalgic stir, but all Irene felt was overwhelming shame. The verdict screamed that she was unable to manage her life and needed to run back to family: twenty-four years old and still too weak to make it on her own.
She frowned and turned on the radio. The nine o-clock news wrapped-up a story on the re-opening of Victory Lake Campground and followed with the weather: partly cloudy with a thirty percent chance of thundershowers late in the evening. She would be in Idaho by then. Goodbye, grey skies. Raccoon City could rain all month for all she cared.
Raccoon City: that waterlogged little smoke-hole she had chosen to defend. It was no different than when she had arrived. The tailings fields still wept oxides into Victory Lake. People still turned left from the center-lane at Oak and Fisson. The Umbrella logo still budded from every billboard.
But given some consideration, it was all so different. The tailings fields didn't burn her eyes. Over a hundred drivers had been cited for making illegal left-hand turns and would know better. And Umbrella was no longer Raccoon City's benevolent Daddy Warbucks.
She snorted. Raccoon City's surface may have been unchanged, but the town was bound for some drastic alterations. It turned out their beloved Umbrella had less than pure intentions, and the company was well past-due for their day of reckoning. Two weeks after Forest's death, Chris Redfield, along with the other surviving STARS, paid her a visit. They told her about what they found in the Arklay Forest. They told her about the mansion, about the lab in the basement and the infected researchers. They showed her blood-soaked notes, a lab-tech's diary with a bullet-hole punched through it.
And she believed every word. Her attack in the woods, coupled with her fruitless search for Victor Yendrowich and Irons' stonewalling, was all proof she needed. Chris wanted her to help take Umbrella down. She laughed and asked him who in the police community would be dumb enough to believe anything a disloyal buddy-fucker said, especially when the story would be hard to believe from a credible source. The older STARS, Burton, suggested she help in other ways. There was evidence to be collected. There were justice officials to be contacted. They would find something for her.
In the end, she agreed to testify in any hearings against Umbrella and nothing more. She was an unconvincing speaker and ill-suited for their cloak and dagger skylarking.
Chris slammed both fists on her kitchen counter. Her dishes rattled, and her 'Twelve Months of Yellowstone' calendar jumped off its tack and tumbled to the floor. He accused her of letting Forest die in vain. He called her a spineless wimp, more interested in saving her own skin than seeking justice. He pointed a finger in her face and announced to the room that Forest deserved better than her.
And for once she kept the Olafson Anger chained-up. It only took two words, spoken with a measured voice, to explain how she wasn't avoiding the fight for her own benefit. How she had more than herself to think about.
Those two simple words, three syllables in total, and Chris' accusations tapered to dumbfounded silence. His eyes drew to the floor. He mumbled a sorry, re-hung the calendar, and limped outside for a cigarette. Jill Valentine shuffled her feet, cleared her throat and wished her good luck. The young medic covered her face and sobbed quietly. Burton put an arm around her and whispered something in her ear.
Forest was dead, and somehow that young thing survived. Irene had been full of questions. She insisted they tell her what happened to Forest. She could plainly see that Burton knew, but they refused to give her any specifics. All they would say was that he had died trying to save Alpha Team.
Only then did she let the Olafson Anger loose. She took a catcher's-step forward and grabbed Burton by his collar; her knuckles milled under his chin. She screamed at them, told them that she was still a cop. She could handle messy death. They had no right to keep anything from her. Forest was gone, and she needed to know how.
And of all people, mousy little Chambers matched her anger. She stepped in front of Burton with one hand on hip and one finger pointed, as if she were charading a storybook schoolteacher. She shouted to Irene that the details didn't matter. Forest died violently, horribly. What right did she have to make them live through it all again for no good reason?
"Finding Forest was awful once." Burton mumbled into his beard.
Irene sighed and blinked the heaviness out of her eyes, determined not to cry again. That last time in Forest's apartment had been enough. She was helping his family pack up. His father -a pot-bellied and grey-haired replica of his Forest- opened a cupboard and found an open box of animal crackers. There were two fresh boxes behind it.
He turned to his wife and gave the box a shake.
"Look at this, Adele. I guess the boy never did get over his love for these things."
The crumbs had yet to settle into Forest's carpet before Irene burst through Valleyview Apartment's side doors with stupid tears leaking between her fingers. She knew Forest just over two years. They played baseball together. They ate together and shared a bed together, and she knew nothing about him. Even the trivial things like his ridiculous fetish for animal crackers were unknowns.
Irene felt tears coming despite her efforts, but her interest switched to a familiar black grille that poked out of the eastbound ditch. The sunset burnt off the patrol car's hood and cherry rack.
By the time she turned to her mirror, the cruiser was pulled onto the road. The back tires were spinning, flinging a coat of mud and grass onto an Umbrella fertilizer billboard. It muscled into her lane. She nudged her trailer to the right. It was right behind her.
The cop lit the overheads and gave the siren a little whoop.
She signalled right, coasted onto the shoulder, and set the hand-brake. So much for making a clean getaway. She rolled the window down and kept her eyes on the mirror. The trailer blocked most of the view. She couldn't make out the driver, but she was sure he was alone.
The cruiser's door swung open far too soon. The cop hadn't bothered to run her plates, meaning he either knew her, or he was an idiot. And with the RPD, either one was a possibility.
A moment later, a bald head emerged.
"Oh, just my luck."
Her hands choked the wheel, and she watched Joe Gutierrez step past the trailer and pull on his forage cap. He had his cop face on, and his right hand rested on his holster.
Irene grit her teeth and straightened her hair. Joe approached her door, standing slightly behind the B-pillar. It was a cop technique to keep clear in case the driver had a gun, instinct after this many years. Still, it stung her.
She stared straight ahead. "Joe…"
Joe leaned forward. He didn't bring his violation book. He was just wasting her time. "You know you've got a taillight burnt-out on your trailer?"
She matched his tone. Joe the cop meets Irene the cop. "You gonna cite me for it?"
"Would you pay the fine if I did?"
"No." She offered the smallest of smiles. "I'm skipping town. You'll never find me."
He returned her smile, but it was with the one he used for taking statements. Irene knew she had lost the privilege of seeing the partner side of Officer Gutierrez, and that stung too.
"Then I guess I won't. Just be sure to put a new bulb in before it gets any darker."
He leaned an arm on the window. "Brendo told me you didn't renew your contract. Said you were selling your place, too."
Irene nodded and jerked a thumb toward the U-Haul. "He told you right."
"Where you headed?"
She sighed. "Back home, I guess." The words left an acidic taste.
"Oh yeah? What's there to do in Wyoming? There can't be that many bars to clear out after closing. How are you gonna keep in shape if you can't toss around angry drunks?"
She chuckled. "You'd be surprised how many bars there are. There's not much else to do but drink."
"You gonna get on with one of the Sheriff's Departments?"
"I'll try the State Police first. But if I can't get hired by them I'll apply to the County Sheriffs and the Jackson PD. I'll do Department of Corrections as a last-resort."
"You'll do fine."
"Yeah, can you believe Irons and Findlay ended-up giving me a decent assessment?" She cringed at her own words and shied away from Joe's scowl. She shouldn't have brought up her snitching.
She lowered her voice. "They probably just wanted me gone."
Joe nodded. "The Chief has bigger problems now. Dan Munroe told me the Justice Department is prying into the Arklay Killings case. Irons is golfing buddies with the DA, but word says he's still sweating. And the press have been eating him alive over that STARS fuck-up. Mind you, having eight cops killed will-" Joe winced. "Ah,shit. Sorry. You don't need to hear that right now."
Irene shrugged. "It's okay."
"I'm sorry about Forest too. He was a decent guy."
She closed a hand around her stomach. "I know."
Joe's portable radio came alive, perfect timing. He turned, screwed a finger into his other ear, and answered the call. The scene triggered another regretful pang. She was watching her former partner clock-in for some routine police work, while she, the newly-minted civvie, was left on the roadside.
Well, she had done it to herself, and as much as it stung, it was the right thing to do.
Joe called a ten-seventeen, stowed his Motorola and turned to her. "Gotta go. Public works just fished a nice marshmallow out of the spillway gates. I guess it's attracting an audience." He laughed. "People are fucking sick."
He must have noticed her dismay, because he shrugged and added. "Meyer hasn't called a Henry code yet, so it's gonna be a drowning. Probably that missing guy from last week, Jenkins."
Irene nodded. "Probably."
He was already headed for his car, but he looked over his shoulder and waved an open hand. "Take care, Irene."
"You too, Joe."
Joe didn't bother with another look back as he hustled to his cruiser. He slammed the door and fishtailed toward town. Hot rubber wafted away, and his siren whined along the embankment walls. Officer Joe Gutierrez was gone much in the same way he came, and Former Officer Irene Lindstrom was once again working her Toyota along the highway.
Back to that hard-earned fifty-five, Irene checked her trailer. Raccoon City's smudged cityscape shrank in her mirror, nothing but an uneven slag-heap with giant billows of white smoke from the industrial park. Four years of her life hunched on that western horizon.
She sighed. A hair caught the breeze and tickled her bottom lip. She blew it away, but it returned and stuck to the upper.
"Get lost, already." She pinched it between two fingers, but before flicking it away, she stopped and glanced at it.
And her eyes stayed locked on that little hair. It was as long as hers, but darker, and slightly greasy.
She held a breath and rolled the hair between her fingers. She wore this jacket when they went to the Pendleton Rodeo. It must have been stuck to the collar for over a year. And now, it was one more memento of what she was leaving behind, of what was lost.
Rusty wandered toward the center-line, and a Camaro with an illegal muffler honked. She snapped her eyes to the road and pointed the truck straight.
But the hair refused to be ignored. It felt much heavier than a single hair ought to. The free-end brushed along her wrist and raised goosebumps. What was she supposed to do with it? It was ridiculous to hold onto a dead man's hair, but at the same time, it was impossible to let go. Lindstrom sentimentality, she supposed.
Irene flicked her eyes to the side-window, took a deep breath, and after a moment, allowed Forest's remains to blow back toward Raccoon City. If there had ever been a time for her mother's practicality it was now. Forest was gone: ashes on a Latham rooftop and hair on a jacket, nothing more. There was no sense clinging to the past. The old Army photos and the tiny collection of cells in her belly were all keepsake she needed. The Irene Lindstrom who hoarded dead men's trinkets had been left in Raccoon City.
At least, she hoped she had.
Because life was a struggle, and that struggle only got harder with every year. The weak buckled, and the strong found more strength in the challenge. It was one of those fundamental laws of nature her father had taught, even if he hadn't been able to fully understand it himself. And after fourteen years of self-doubt, Irene was able to differentiate between herself and Erik Lindstrom. Grief and guilt had caused her father to abandon his obligation as a parent. Irene would not do the same. She had known as soon as that second bar appeared in the test-kit's viewing window.
And so here traveled Irene Evelyn Lindstrom: her parent's daughter, born with her mother's thick waist and her father's height, blessed with her mother's fortitude, her father's humanity.
At least, that was what she was going to tell herself.
With a reassuring nod, she rolled-up the window and silenced the music, enjoying the highway's rhythmic howl. The transition from stop to highway-gear was always an ordeal for poor Rusty, especially with a loaded trailer, but once he was rolling he could make it from coast to coast without complaint.
Rusty bounced over an uneven expansion joint, and the instrument lights went dead. Irene frowned and whapped a fist against the dashboard in just that right spot. The lights returned, and she ran a gentle hand along the vinyl, as if to make amends for the reprimand. Rusty was beat to Hell, but he had a long life ahead of him. He would make it.
Irene tried a smile on. It didn't feel right, but she would get used to it.
Because if Rusty could make it, so could she.
The child woke to low female voices, both voices similar, both voices familiar. He blinked through the darkened bedroom and turned to the golden sash of light at the base of the door.
"Is he still awake?"
"No. I put him to bed an hour ago. He should asleep by now."
"I'll go check, thanks again."
Foosteps creaked up the stairs, footsteps creaked to the door. He tucked his head under the sheets and turned to the wall. She worried when he was still awake when she got home.
The front door squealed open. His bedroom door squealed open. Footsteps on the porch, footsteps in his bedroom. A truck-door slammed outside.
He could hear her breathing in the room.
A strong hand brushed his arm. He opened his eyes at an appropriate time.
"Hey." She ran her fingers through his hair. "Are you still awake?"
He rolled over and rubbed his face. "I heard you come in."
"Come downstairs." She seemed more cheerful than usual, especially for after work. "There's something you need to see."
He was out of bed without the need for a second prompt. If it was this late and she wanted to show him something, it must be special. He was fully awake by the time his feet curled against the cold hardwood.
"What is it?"
She smiled. "You'll see. Get your slippers, and put on my jacket. It's cold outside."
Her coat slipped over his shoulders. He sagged under the weight and ran his fingers along the polished brass buttons. It was fragrant with coffee and field dust.
They descended into the front hall together. His small hand completely swallowed by hers. He could feel her calluses, soft but thick, like the pads on a cat's paw.
"Close your eyes, and don't open them until I tell you to."
He piqued with an electric twinge of excitement but complied readily. The door groaned open; he was ushered ahead.
"Watch your step."
Gravel crunched under his slippers. The evening chill sparked a shiver, and he retreated farther into her jacket. Frogs sang to each other from the dugout across the yard. A tractor-trailer whooshed along the highway.
They walked thirty-seven paces. Wet grass kissed his ankles.
"Alright, open your eyes, and look up."
He obeyed with eager haste, and immediately tipped backward, disoriented. She had been prepared for the reaction, because she already had a hand on his shoulders. His eyes adjusted, and he recalibrated himself, now assured that it was not he who was falling, it was the world itself that seemed to be tumbling toward him. From East to West, the white pinpricks that dotted the evening sky had come unscrewed from their sockets and plunged earthward as wraithlike tails traced their flat trajectories.
He shook his head. His mouth hung wide. "What is it? Why is it doing that?"
She chuckled and gave him a little shake. "Meteor shower. There's bits of rock in space, and when they get too close to us, they burn up."
He didn't want to look away for fear that the otherworldly show would be over when he returned. As if whoever was charged with its production had decided that he had been granted a sufficient dose of amazement. "It's like fireworks."
She didn't answer, but after a moment said, "they say you can make a wish when you see one."
He followed a large streamer toward the horizon. It disappeared behind the old barn.
"Will you make a wish too?"
She brushed his hair in place.
She blinked, and then shook her head.
He turned to her, hoping the show would still remain once he was able grant it his full attention. Her head was tilted to the stars. Silver light shone off her nose and cheekbones as she smiled. She put an arm around him and pulled him close. They watched in silence as above them, the alien flotsam -perhaps fragments of a planet where, ages ago, a mother and son had also stared at the falling sky- consummated its galactic migration with an iridescent flourish.
AN. All RIGHT! Finished with this story. Honestly, I never thought it would end. Hopefully you all enjoyed this last chapter (and previous ones). Know that your readership has helped me greatly.
To my reviewers, past and present: Thank you so very much, not only did your feedback motivate me, but it also helped shape this story. Alyssa Ashcroft wouldn't have made an appearance if not for Ciel Noir. Joe Gutierrez would have needed a different excuse to be transferred away from Irene if Artistic Masochist's Liv Tremmain hadn't been suspended. Clive Havel wouldn't have made his cameo without Chaed's feedback.
And, of course, to Maiafay and enRAGEd who's detailed and honest feedback helped make me a better writer. Eternally grateful.
To my subscribers and favouriters: Thank you for thinking my story was good enough to follow. I hope I didn't disappoint.
And to all the others who enjoyed Corrupted without offering feedback. you suck! LOL. I'm just kidding. Thanks so much for reading, even if you don't comment; I'm writing this story to be enjoyed, not to have my considerable ego inflated. So I hope I have sufficiently entertained you. I am grateful for your attention.
Ah who am I kidding, Leave a review. It would make ol'cjjs a happy guy.
And along with Officer Lindstrom, I too will be leaving Raccoon City for a while. I am taking the summer off writing, and will be writing some original fiction in the fall. HOWEVER, you can expect a few oneshots from me, and I'm in the works of writing a co-op piece with enRAGEd. It will be about the tragic Trevor family, and their dealings with the twisted and evil Ozwell Spencer.
Here's a sneak peek.
Spencer didn't look up as his secretary ushered George into the office. There was no gushing salutation, no glad-handing or offered drink. He had always found the fanfare and pomp of moderate celebrity tiresome, but to be deprived of it, so suddenly and so completely, was unsettling. It felt as if some fundamental step in the greeting process was missed. He wondered if he should call attention to himself, but he already felt exposed by the room's grandeur, and his host's apparent comfort in it.
Spencer snapped his broadsheet - today's Financial Times - and sipped a cup of black tea. He tut-tutted at an article and circled it with a tortoise-shell fountain pen.
At least if there had been the tick of a clock it would have measured each aching second he lingered. As it stood, all he could rely upon to toll the passage of time was the reedy whistle of Spencer's rhythmic breathing.
George cleared his throat. The noise echoed. He felt the urge to straighten his tie.
"There is no need to stand on ceremony, Mister Trevor. Please sit down." His voice was like the recording of an earthquake played at half-speed. It was a voice of unquestionable authority best applied to some formidable statesman; Theodore Roosevelt came to mind. It certainly did not seem appropriate when married to this bent and sallow plutocrat.
All the same, George complied and settled into a Victorian Prie Dieu chair beside Spencer's own. It was placed at a flat angle, and he would need to keep his head turned to look his client in the eye.
Not much chance of that. The old man hasn't even looked up from his damn newspaper.
George's Herringbone jacket rasped against the chair's royal-velvet. Spencer tut-tutted and circled another article.
The chair was straight-backed and insufficiently padded. Even as he settled into its unnatural geometry, his lumbar began to protest. He shook a cigarette from its carton and popped it into his mouth. The filter wicked moisture from his bottom lip and stuck there.
Spencer sipped his tea. There was a hint of spice to it that reminded him of the Turkish workers he had hired for the Monte Cassino project.
He pulled out his Ronson and checked the side-table: an Africanesque scrimshaw of a man reaching to the sky, a recent medical journal, a saucer cradling a thin-handled spoon.
"You are looking for an ashtray, Mister Trevor."
George glanced at his client. Spencer had folded the newspaper. His hooded eyes were fixed on the cigarette.
"Um, yes, as a matter of fact, I was..."
"You will not find one." Spencer sipped his tea, but kept his eyes on George. "I cannot countenance smokers. While you are in my employ, you will refrain from using any tobacco products. Though I am disposed to overlook eccentricities in gifted men, this is one habit I will not tolerate. Do you find this acceptable?"
The cigarette dangled from his lip. With a quick swish of herringbone on velvet, he slipped it back into pocket, along with the lighter.
That question only had one answer. "I suppose so."
"Splendid. You understand, of course. When one is afflicted with malignant tumors in the lungs, it serves to heed the words of physicians."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know-"
"Nor did I expect you to. But that is a past matter. Hardly of any concern now. I trust you have some inkling why I have summoned you."
Summoned. Like a genie. Your wish is my command.
"I am an architect. And you are a very wealthy man. I assume..."
"...that I require your expertise for a project that flatters both my vanity and inflated sense of self-importance. You are a very astute man. Unlike your previous clients, however, I have …ah …needs that you may find to be excessive. I intend for this project to be worthy of my wealth and my station."
The rich were contrary animals. They hated flattery when it was blatantly false, and adored it when it was subtle. The trick was in petting their specific brand of ego without making it obvious. And Spencer sounded like he had a flair for self-deprecation. It was time to make an impression, and so he played the odds.
"Money and titles alone don't make great men."
Spencer steepled his fingers and eyed George without turning his head. A man that unhealthy shouldn't have been able to seem predatory.
"Spoken like a man who has neither, Mister Trevor," Spencer said, before his voice softened, "but well-spoken all the same."
George didn't sigh, but his next breath was relieved.
"Churchill once said that great and good are seldom the same man. I feel I tend toward the former."
George chuckled, but the pointed stare that came a few moments later stopped him dead. His nerves were getting to him. Laughing at Spencer's bad jokes wasn't going to cut it. He knew that already.
"You needn't feel obliged to humor me. I chose you for your eye and your mind, both of which, I am told, are brilliant. I did not choose you for your sycophancy. It is a discipline in which you fail to impress." He drained his cup and then reached for the intercom buzzer. "Would you care for a drink?"
Okay, you like?
So that's all for me, for the time being. Have a lovely (hopefully not corrupted) summer, and I'll see you all in the fall.
You are all awesome.