March 26, 2010

Things just get weirder and weirder

((More flashbacks. Just an update, flashbacks will probably persist for another 6 weeks or so, so says our Exalted storyteller. Hope you guys are enjoying!))

I was sitting with my legs up in one corner of the church pew, absently rubbing my dog tags together, staring off. I ignored everyone in the room, and everyone obliged to ignore me. I was still a little shaken up by the revelations of the night before. I considered not coming back today, just pretending it had all been a dream.. but I kept hearing whispering in my empty apartment, and regardless, I knew I had to see it through out of sheer stubbornness and more than a little curiosity.

Jackie sat in his customary place, tapping away at his computer. None of us would be surprised if the thing turned out to be attached to him when he stood up, I think. He would occasionally grumble to himself in Korean when the generator lulled and his screen, along with the lights, dimmed slightly. I spared him a glance only when he expletives became unusually colorful. If he noticed, he would just smirk at me and keep typing. I'm not sure he realized that I could understand every word he said. No one else paid him any mind, but then, no one else could understand him.

I nearly jumped out of my seat when my cell phone rang. I recognized the number as Larry Solmes, my boss from the ambulance service I worked for. He didn't usually bother his people on their days off..
"O'shea. I was just calling to convey my, and everyone else's condolences. We heard about your sister."
It was fortunate the Larry couldn't see my face. It was a mask of total confusion. I was an only child. I was about to protest when I saw Jackie nodding urgently. Thankfully, Larry had not so much as paused.
"Your request for leave is of course granted. We'll see you in two weeks O'shea. Tell your family we all send our love."
"Th, thank you sir. It is much appreciated." Jackie winked at me as I hung up.
I scowled at him. "A heads up would've been nice." He just shrugged and went back to his typing. I closed my fist around the tags and sat lower in the pew. This was it.. I was really in it.. damn.

I was pulled from my brooding when the door opened, and I nodded a silent greeting to Karl as he walked in, followed by Danzig who trotted over to a corner and settled himself comfortably. The grizzled shrimper grunted at Jackie and glowered at me. I raised an eyebrow and shook my head, returning to my ruminations. The silence that followed was not awkward, but it was hardly amiable, punctuated by soft curses and softer keystrokes. I shifted restlessly, tucking the tags back into my shirt as the door opened again. The angry Italian, who I learned was called Giuseppe, stalked through the door and Tommy trudged in behind him. Jackie looked up between them.

"You guys look like shit."
Karl spoke at the same moment. "What the hell happened to you?"
Tommy looked up at the expectant faces, his eyes red rimmed from fatigue and other things. Giuseppe didn't even slow down. He strode to the rectory and slammed the door behind him. A few moments later the shower came on. I spared a glance at the door, a faint, familiar metallic scent had trailed past me as he walked by. Blood?...This should be an interesting story.

I turned my attention back to Tommy. He hesitated, looking from one expectant face to the other, heaved a large sigh and grabbed his tool box off the floor, making a beeline for the back bathroom. He shut the door quietly but firmly behind him.

Jackie shrugged, going back to his computer. Karl glared at the closed door. "Well Fuck you too." I just rolled my eyes and sat up straighter. These guys were just a fountain of information. The silence grew again until I turned suddenly in my pew to look at Karl, I opened my mouth to speak, then hesitated, my brow knit together in thought. Karl glared at me.
"What the hell do you want woman?" I narrowed my eyes briefly, then shrugged. Can't complain about them not being forthcoming if I'm not either.. something I'd overheard him say after I stormed off last night suddenly hit a chord.
"You mentioned a man with blue eyes last night. Who were you talking about?"
Karl shrugged. "How should I know? Brijet just said to watch out for a man with blue eyes."

I absently pulled the dog tags from my shirt. My skin was cold where they had laid against my chest. I pursed my lips in thought, tapping the dog tags against the hard wood of the pew.
"Hey Jackie, what kind of information you got on a guy named Trevian Williams?" "Trevian? Who the hell is that?" Jackie scowled.
I shook my head. "Will you just look?"
"Gimme a minute."

Karl stood and walked up the aisle to the front of the church. "Who the hell is Trevian?"
I ignored the demanding tone in the grizzled man's voice.
"Quite possibly the blue eyed man you were talking about. I met him while I was on shift when I first got into town. Guy got shot down in midtown. Had a talk with him about what happened. Seemed nice enough, but creepy as hell."
Karl grunted dissent. "Creepy to you maybe."
I frowned at him, but refrained from further comment. Sexist bastard.

"Looks like this Trevian guys got a record. Looks like gang related stuff. Assault charges, larceny, the usual. He got a long rap in Detroit before he came down here. Nothing special really. Though... rumor says that the guy's bulletproof." Jackie looked up to meet our skeptical looks. "Thas what it says, look for yourself."
In response, Karl and I both leaned in to look at the screen. Jackie continued to skim the information quickly.
"Looks like he goes by 'Third' on the street, not Trevian. That's about all there is on him. Looks like a typical gang-banger."

I sat back and shrugged. "Well I didn't get much out of him when I talked to him, except that he and his lady friend practice Vaudun."
Karl grinned sardonically and cracked his knuckles. "You just weren't askin' the right way. Where can we find this guy?"

I started to answer but paused mid-sentence as Jackie let loose with a string of curses, pressing his hands to his head. "Aw man! What the fuck!"
I frowned at the small man. "Whats wrong with you?"
Jackie didn't answer me, instead keeping up his colorful monologue. Tommy opened the door and stepped into the main auditorium, eyes glazed over, tourniquet still around his arm. He was also rubbing left side of his head, right above the eye. He spoke slowly with slightly slurred words.
"What's going on? My head hurts." Tommy looked between Karl and me, recognizing Jackie as a lost cause even in his drug haze. Karl wasn't looking at any of us, his jaw twitching in an obvious effort not to show any signs of the discomfort he was sharing with the others.

But I didn't feel a thing. I stood took a step back from the group.
"What the hell is going on?" I demanded
Tommy turned and disappeared back into the bathroom, only to return a few seconds later holding a small glass vial. He put a drop in each eye, just as he had last night, an action that took him significantly longer than it should have as his hands wavered unsteadily. He blinked away the excess liquid and looked at me again, and waved as he looked just over my shoulder.

The world went black and white, slightly fuzzy around the edges. Several ghosts sat in the church pews, occasionally standing or kneeling all at once. They were dressed nicely, perpetually going through the motions of Sunday morning mass. They paid no heed to the living who had taken refuge in the church. It was a sight fit to depress anyone, but Tommy was too high to care, and the figure standing behind Harper was of far more interest anyway. The man was rather short, about 5'5, and rather dead. The left side of his head was completely missing, the left eye covered with an opaque film. He had his fists clenched and was looking at the men in the room with outraged contempt.


I screwed my brow together as Tommy waved over my shoulder.
"What the fuck are you waving at?"
Tommy pointed. "Him, behind you. He looks maaad." At that, Tommy saw the man raised his fists, his face contorting with rage and he began to scream at the ceiling at what should have been the top of his lungs, but there was no sound. Jackie yelped as the pain in his head increased, Karl held a hand to his head involuntarily and scowled as blood dripped from his nose to the wood floor. Tommy seemed impervious to the pain, though he absently rubbed his head.

I whirled, and there was nothing. Frost crept around the edges of the metal dog tags and my eyes widened in fear and surprise. Surely not. Oh god. Please not that. Tommy turned and looked at Natalie (at least I think it was her.., she was almost constantly in attendance when Tommy was around according to him). "Why is he so mad?" He paused, probably for the response. "The guy behind her. He's all pissed." Then Tommy just shrugged like she hadn't given him any useful information.

The rectory door opened, Giuseppe framed within. He was barefoot and shirtless, towel draped across his shoulders and tattoos marching across his upper body. And by marching I mean covering in its entirety. He had the heel of his hand pressed against his temple, and spoke through gritted teeth.
"What the hell is going on?"
Tommy pointed past me again. "The guy there. He's all mad for some reason, and half is head is gone."
I visibly stiffened. My hand closing convulsively over the frosty tags. No no no..

Tommy shuffled forward, peering intently at the figure behind me. Tommy squinted, coming to a stop right in front of me, leaning over my shoulder. Normally such a breech of personal space would motivate me to move back, but I felt frozen in place.

"His shirt says 'Driscoll'" Tommy nodded definitively and took a step back. I felt my eyes get rounder, and all the blood drained from my face, it went white as a sheet and I looked at Tommy as though he'd sprouted a second head. Giuseppe raised a brow at my reaction.
"Friend of yours?"
I turned to look at him, my face probably so stricken that he just rolled his eyes at me.
"Wonderful." He turned and disappeared back into the rectory.
I was in too much shock to even be annoyed at him.

Tommy watched as the man seemed to tire. His fists unclenched, and he sagged, still screaming, but with much less force. The image wavered, growing fainter. As Driscoll faded away, so did the pain. Jackie sat up slowly from where he had curled up in the pew.
"Fuck. What the hell. I'm getting tired of all this ghost shit." He continued his ranting as he retrieved his laptop.
I sunk down into the pew. Later I realized that at that point, the dog tags weren't cold anymore, but right then, I was too freaked out to make note of it. I stared straight ahead and didn't utter a sound. Karl stalked into the bathroom to clean his nose and Tommy wandered through the pews, peering closely at figures only he could see.

About 15 minutes later, give or take, Giuseppe reappeared, fully clothed and wearing his usual frown. A moment later the church door was flung open as Jaleel ran in. He hadn't even taken the time to remove his helmet. All eyes where on him, save me, I was just staring off having a more than just mild freak out in the front pew.

"The Union is starting trouble. We need to go. C-love needs help."
Jackie snorted and bent over his computer. "Have fun."
Karl picked up his wrench and called Danzig to his side. "Sounds like fun."

Giuseppe nodded and started towards the door, pausing when I made no indication of having heard the summons. I hadn't even heard Jaleel come in at the time.
"Harper!" he barked my name harshly, with enough force to momentarily clear the dazed look from my face. I blinked at him.
"We're going. Come on." He strode out of the church without a backwards glance. I shook myself and stood, following him out. I was the queen of distracting myself with action. Work to forget, and this was no different. Thank god Jaleel needed us now.. because I didn't see my mental breakdown going to well if I'd been allowed to sit there all night...

Karl grabbed Tommy's shirt and pulled him outside, giving him a push towards his car grumbling about fucking druggies. The door swung shut as Jackie told us to be safe in his usual sarcastic tone.


Giuseppe rode in the Jeep with me (oh joy), silent in the passenger seat. He had simply looked at me when I took out my keys and climbed in the drivers seat, he didn't have to say anything to communicate his opinion of me driving in my current condition, but he slide into the SUV anyway, and I didn't care enough to reassure him. Jaleel led the way on his bike, Karl and Tommy following in Tommy's car. The vehicle veered across the white lines occasionally. I let him lead by a few dozen feet. The silence in the car was palpable but neither of cared. I was too focused on driving, blocking everything else from my mind. The feeling in the pit of my stomach betrayed to me my own awareness of the situation. But maybe if I ignored it long enough, it would go away. But then, that hadn't solved the problems I had with Driscoll when he was alive and was much less likely to work now that he was dead. But right now I was driving and working to keep out of Karl's way as he served Tommy's car across 4 lanes.

Jaleel parked his bike in an empty lot, motioning for the others to do the same. I turned off the car and heaved a sigh as I leaned back in the seat. I turned towards Giuseppe for some sort of reassurance and found the door open and the man gone. Figures. That's what I get from even considering it..It wouldn't surprise me if they're all looking forward to this.

With another sigh, I got out of the car, securing my gun in its holster and dragging the overly large first aid kit out of the backseat. I heaved it over my shoulder and followed the others as they crept quickly down the street. Tommy just drifted after everyone in a dazed sort of way. The gunshots echoed through the alleyways making it seem like there were more guns involved than there actually were. Or so I hoped.

Jaleel motioned everyone to stop and slid out of the alley and into the next street. C-love was hunkered down behind a pale blue sedan, gun at ready. Every few seconds he would pop up and take a few shots at the alley across and up the block. Jaleel motioned forward. They moved quickly in a crouching run, darting from the shadow to the car, taking cover next to C-love. Karl yanked Tommy down as bullets ricocheted off the metal roof. "Goddammit boy!"

"Fuck man, I didn't think you'd come." C-love pressed himself against the car door as another volley of bullets pinged off the vehicle. C-Love came up short as he saw the snake tattoo crawling out of Tommy's shirt. "What the fuck is this man?! You runnin' with them now?!"
Jaleel glanced at the tattoo and shook his head. "No way man, they're cool, its a cover."
"Whatever man, but we're totally fucked. I had to call him man. I didn't have any choice."
Jaleel leaned around the car and counted at least 5 shadows taking aim. "What? Who?"
C-Love's voice fell to a whisper and his eyes widened in reverenced fear. "Third, man."
I looked up sharply, glancing between C-Love and Jaleel. "Third?"

Further conversation was halted as bullets pinged off the hood of the car. Jaleel pulled out his guns, one in each hand, and took careful aim. He fired two shots in quick succession. His efforts were rewarded with a gurgling scream. One kid staggered against the wall of the alleyway, blood seeping down the front of his shirt. Another fell to the asphalt, dead before his face met the payment. The top of his head was missing. Jaleel cursed and ducked back down behind the car as a bullet pegged him in the arm. If there was any remnants of my daze, it evaporated as blood coursed down Jaleel's arm. Instinct took over. Just like I'd been hoping for.

I flipped open the catches on my kit and pulled out disinfectant, forceps and other various medical paraphernalia. I scooted over beside Jaleel without giving the shooters any target. I began to dig out the bullet as Giuseppe stood and let a knife fly from his fingers. None of us saw it transverse the distance between the car and the far alleyway. It was moving too fast for us to even see a blur. The knife simply disappeared from Giuseppe's hand and appeared in the Union member's chest. The kid screamed and Giuseppe grunted as a shot from another shadow took him in the upper arm.

I looked at him, but didn't move to help automatically. I figured he might be the type not to accept help. I always hated when I had guys like that in my platoon. Guys who wouldn't let me do my job. I just raised a brow at him in question. His words came out from between gritted teeth as he kept his eyes on the threat.
"Just dig the bullet out."
I grabbed his arm and took to it with the forceps, none too gently. As the bullet came free and I reached for another bandage, Giuseppe shoved me roughly away.

As my pride was recovering, and I fought the urge to clock him, Karl flexed his fingers around the handle of the cast iron wrench and moved quickly out from behind the car, circling around the area of combat on the right. The perceptive would also notice Danzig stalking across the street on the left. These kids weren't perceptive. Tommy had sunk down to his stomach and wedged himself under the car, his .38 special wavering as he tried to focus on the blurred figures. His shot veered high over everyone's head. He was too high to be of any use. C-Love's target found a bullet in his left arm and retaliated with two shots, one that ricocheted off the car, the other zinging past C-Love's ear. "Shit man! This is fucked up!"

No one answered, Jaleel fired again and two more bodies fell out of the alleyway, one with a hole between his eyes, and one with a hole where one of his eyes should have been. As I glanced over, Giuseppe was sliding out from behind the car and moving with unimaginable speed across the street. One could barely see him, let alone shoot him, he moved so fast. And I swear to god the bullet hole was gone.

I moved into a firing position right as Tommy, who had scooted out from under the car sometime during the fight, took a bullet to the shoulder. I cursed and holstered my weapon, pulling Tommy away from the open air and grabbing for my kit again. Tommy just looked blankly at my, arm limp at his side. He tried to raise his gun, but the arm wouldn't move. So he sat there and watched as I started to dig out the bullet. I managed to keep an eye on the fight at the same time.

By that time, Karl had made it to the other side of the street. He moved into place right as Jaleel's shots found their victims. By now, only two kids where still standing in the alleyway, one was propped up against the wall, bleeding out at a rapid rate from the wound in his lower chest. As one of them took aim, a large rottweiler lunged from the shadows, knocking the kid on his side and the gun from his hand. He screamed as the dogs massive jaws closed over his throat. As Danzig jumped, Karl acted as well. His wrench caught the other in the side of the head. The kid fell to the ground, unconscious but breathing. Karl kicked the gun away from his limp hand and grabbed him by the shirt collar, hauling him up.
"Danzig, stop." The dog froze, the other kids jugular still between his teeth. The kid whimpered as blood seeped down his neck from the small puncture wounds. Danzig growled low in his throat, and the kid went limp as he fainted.

Karl turned his attention back to the boy in his hands, and he watched as the kids neck seemed to open all on its own and blood flow freely down over Karl's hand and the kids shirt. Karl dropped him and stepped back. Giuseppe stood in front of him, using a piece of cloth, presumably torn from one of the bodies, to wipe his knife clean. He retrieved his other knife, still lodged in the chest of another union member.

I had finished patching up Tommy, and we stood. C-Love was babbling his thanks and Giuseppe and Karl walked back over, but it was short lived. An Escalade came careening down the street. The driver made a hard left and hit the brakes, causing the SUV to come sliding to a stop sideways across the road, and nearly rolling. We all took cover again as doors opened and more gang-bangers took cover behind the car, peeking out to pop off shots at us.

Jaleel just smirked and started aiming again. "Reinforcements? Seriously?"
I had my gun out and ready, wondering how many times reinforcements would come, and trying to judge just how many kids had been in that SUV. There were a lot of bullets pinging off the car and the pavement.

For a few minutes, no one could get any aimed shots off. These guys were better trained than the last ones. Never having more than one person reloading at any one time.

It was about then that C-love's reinforcements arrived. A car pulled up behind us, and two people stepped out. I recognized them both. The first was Trevian.. or "Third".. rather. The second... was D.J. Bullis. He was looking much deader than I remembering him being in the back of my ambulance. His skin was gray and waxy, his eyes glazed over with a white film started to creep across them. He held himself awkwardly, and he stared straight ahead slack jawed and completely mindless.

Being that close to him, there was no way to deny the fact that he was a walking corpse. I realized I was holding my breath and quickly sucked in air to keep from fainting. The sexist asshole would never let me hear the end of it if I did.
"Looks like you got yourself in a little bit of trouble there, C-Love." Third looked at the other man with a rather unsettling grin, completely ignoring the bullets whizzing by his head.
C-Love, for once, was speechless.
Third noticed my, crouched behind the car. "Hey! Medico!"
He chuckled when all I could do was give a very faint nod, my eyes fixated on Bullis.

Third looked at the dead man, then motioned to the SUV. The zombie shuffled slowly in the direction of the car. We all watched in rapt horror as the kids shot uselessly at the approaching attacker. Bullis ignored all the bullets and just kept coming. The kids weren't smart enough to run. The zombie disappeared behind the car, and what followed were screams punctuated with the sound of tearing flesh and snapping bones. I heard a sound reminiscent of someone crushing an overripe melon, and moments later, someone's lower jaw was thrown into the air and landed at our feet.

I lost it and vomited all over the asphalt. Everyone else looked a little green around the edges, even Giuseppe. Third just grinned at us. When the zombie returned, it was covered in blood and gore. It was shot up to hell, and badly beaten with something like a tire iron. But it didn't seem to notice.

Third nodded to all of us, and his gaze settled on C-Love. "You know what this means, my friend. You're mine now. Lets go."
C-Love stood slowly and started stammering. "Su..Sure man. I owe you one.. uh.."
He swallowed audibly as Third motioned to the open car door.
Third nodded to the rest of us and got in the car. C-Love got in the car and the look on his face was pure terror as they drove away.

I took a deep breath to steady myself and slowly stood. I looked around at everyone, they were all slowly recovering. The shock was turning into fear for me, and I don't do well with fear. I tend to channel it into anger instead.

I grabbed my kit and shoved implements inside with short, pissed off movements. I closed the case, picked it up off the asphalt and slammed it down on the trunk of the car.

"Okay.. so what the FUCK JUST HAPPENED?!"

March 17, 2010

Meeting the group

((Sorry for the lack of post last week. Had some minor surgery and never got the chance. Now we will continue with our regularly scheduled programming...continuing with the flashbacks, hope you enjoy them! This one is written a little weirdly, because I switched between first and third person views.. bear with me.. just trying it out. It won't be the norm.))

He hit the kid again and he nearly went down. "What do you know!"
"Man I swear! I don't know nothin!" He swung at Jaleel, connecting, but at this point all he accomplished was failing his arms in Jaleel's general direction, not causing any serious damage. Jaleel raised his fist again and the kid flinched, but said nothing.
"I will beat the shit out of you kid."
"I can't! I ain't gonna say a word!" Obviously there was something he was more afraid of than Jaleel, he could see it in his eyes, but what would be frightening enough to take this kind of beating for? Jaleel hit the kid again across the mouth and he went down, hard. All but unconscious, the kid rolled over and groaned, pulling his legs up into the fetal position.

Jaleel whirled as footsteps echo down the street, bullet whizzing by his good ear. "Muther Fucker!" He launched himself toward the newcomer, staggering as a bullet took him in the chest. He looked up and saw the other kid, the one he had labeled 'wife beater' smirk at him, holding the gun sideways, as though that made him tough, and moving closer to finish Jaleel off. Confusion passed over his face as Jaleel straightened and closed the distance between them, no blood visible. Jaleel grabbed the gun and nearly lifted the kid off the ground as they each struggled to get control of the firearm. Jaleel cursed his bad luck, being forced to leave his guns in the bag on his bike, outside the club, two blocks away.


I sat in the club at a table by myself. I didn't really know why I was here, aside from promising James I'd take some time to relax. But I was wound tight in this place..and showing it.. it kept all but a few drunks from hitting on me, which, I guess, was preferable anyway. I wasn't here to find a date. But I felt desperately out of place among the women wearing short skirts and revealing apparel. My idea of clubbing clothes was a pair of nice jeans and a tank top. Not exactly clothes that screamed "come and get it" to the men, but I really didn't care, I guess. I wasn't a fan of miniskirts, even if I did have the legs for them. I sat there with the music pulsing around me, sipping my drink and watching the crowd (it still tasted like a fucking whiskey sour. I should give up alcohol, that's all I ever taste).

I noticed the guy almost as soon as he entered. His disfigurements tended to make him stand out in a crowd. I let my gaze slide from him, and it wandered back every few minutes to avoid drawing attention to myself. He wasn't particularly remarkable once one got past the missing ear and the impressive scar. Just another black gang banger.. I absently wondered who had stitched up his face after whatever fight he'd been in. Whoever it was had done a shitty job if he still had that much of a scar. Or maybe he hadn't gone to the hospital. Yeah, that seemed more accurate. He was wearing baggy jeans and a motorcycle jacket, and seemed like he was looking for someone specific. He looked briefly in my direction, but only long enough to decide I wasn't who he was after.

I stood as he moved towards the upper levels and drained my glass. No reason to be here if I wasn't enjoying myself, and there was no one to make me stay. I moved to the exit, sliding out unobtrusively and walking to my car. The dog tags under my shirt clicked softly and I flinched as they touched my bare skin. The things were cold as ice, again. It was weird how cold they sometimes were. I ignored it and looked for my car. The parking lot was packed. It took me a few minutes to find my jeep amidst the jungle of other vehicles. As I was looking, a goth kid came bounding out of the bar, with the black guy in hot pursuit. The kid had a pretty good lead on him. I just watched them run past. I spotted the green Jeep Commander four rows over, digging my keys out of my pocket as I navigated between the isles. I unlocked the door and reached under the front seat, feeling for the bag that held my sidearm. I was always aware of the status of my gun, though I wasn't sure when I'd become so paranoid about it. It was a military issue 9mm, though not the same one I'd had while in the Army. I tracked one down after I got out. For personal security.

I started to slide it back under the seat when I heard the first shot. My hand tightened around the grip, as I scanned the parking lot, gun still concealed. The shot had come from a couple blocks down. I closed the car door, gun in hand, and broke into a run. In the back of my mind I was vaguely recalling another time I gone to investigate gun shots. In the front of my mind I was thinking, What the fuck am I doing? I briefly wondered if I did these things because I felt compelled to, like I'd been telling myself before, or if I was subconsciously suicidal. Suicidal seemed more likely. Maybe I should see a shrink.

I came up on the scene pretty quickly, my miniskirt legs carrying me the distance easily. I ducked into one of the side alleyways and watched, gun ready. I took in the scene as fast as I could. There were three people. The black guy with the scars was struggling with a teenaged white kid in a wife beater, and another kid was lying on the pavement, not moving. I trained my gun on the two struggling for control of what looked like another firearm, and drew a breath to yell when another shot echoed down the street. I watched, frozen, as the guy in white shuddered then fell slowly to his knees. The black man pulled the gun from his hands as he fell. Blood beginning to pool on the ground, a dark stain spreading across his beater. He slumped over sideways onto the asphalt.

I watched, slightly stunned as the black guy looked scornfully at the dying kid and walked over to a shape huddled on the ground a few feet away. It groaned and shifted and I realized he was still alive. I jumped as another shot rang out, but the kid was so out of it all he could do was whimper. I couldn't let the guy kill the kid. I trained my gun on the black guy and screamed at him.
"Dont move!"
But my words were drowned out by another shot. He had shot the kid in the head. I could see bits of skull and brain matter explode outward. I felt sick to my stomach as I called out again, "I said don't fucking move!"
Too slow Harper.. you're too fucking slow. Just like last time. Can't ever stop people from getting shot in the head.

"Fuck." He looked up and saw me taking cover in one of the alleyways. He saw the gun, but with two bodies on the ground, white kids no less, he wasn't about to stick around and explain himself to the cops even with a gun trained on him, I guess. He bolted down the street, I could hear him breathing pretty heavily, and wondered if he wasn't already injured. The fifth shot of the night bit into his right calf, and he was down. His momentum took him to the ground hard and he rolled a few feet before coming to a stop. He lay on his back, breathing hard, trying to fill his lungs. He groaned and clutched his calf. "Shit man, you shot me!"

I walked up, gun trained steadily on him, eyes daring him to even twitch. "Throw the gun and keep your hands were I can see them."
He tossed the gun a few feet away, out of reach, and glared at me, I could see the realization in his face, realization that I wasn't a cop, just some crazy broad with a gun. "Care to explain yourself?" I was feeling charitable tonight. Also curious. He hadn't really looked like he was out for trouble when he came into the bar earlier.
"Shit man, they fucking attacked me! It was self defense."
I raised an eyebrow and glanced back at the still form of the goth kid that he'd shot in the head. "He didn't seem to be going anywhere when you shot him."
"Man, he had a knife. I was protecting myself."
I frowned at him. knife or no, the kid had been pretty messed up already. "Then why did you run?"
He stared at me like I'd sprouted a second head.
"You kiddin me? Black man, two dead white kids, you really think I'm gonna get off with self-defense?"
I frowned, the man made a good point. "I saw you book it out of the club after the kid, makes it seem more like you were the attacker."
"I just needed information. We got out here, he wouldn't answer my question, started throwing punches, pulled a knife. I was defending myself."
"Information concerning what?" I asked. He blinked at me, like it was the least expected question that I could have asked him. I'm not even sure why I did. What did it matter what he wanted the kid for? but for some reason I felt it was important. Maybe because of my suicidal curiosity.

I looked at him expectantly. He seemed to be trying to come to some decision. I could also see him considering his options, debating whether to lie or not. Finally he sighed in defeat and started talking. "A girl named Natalie Ganier." He paused to see if I recognized the name, I just quirked a brow and gestured for him to continue.

"She's dead, and I'm trying to figure out why. She asked me to."
Doubt must have shown on my face, because he added, "It's a complicated situation."
"Apparently." I responded dryly.
"I met her... after she died."
I blinked at him, and felt something icy growing in the pit of my stomach. "Pardon?"
He scowled at me, then winced from the pain in his leg. "Man, I don't know. I don't even know whats going on myself, how am I supposed to explain it to you?"

He was fucking nuts, right? But I just kept flashing back on DJ Bullis' face, when I saw him in the crowd of people. It seemed insane that I was actually considering this guys story.. but it rang true.. which sounded weird, but it was an intuition thing.. Or a desperate thing. I wanted to believe him because it might mean I was less crazy for considering that zombies might actually exist. I needed to know if it was real.

I sighed in much the way he had, and gestured with my gun. "Take off your shirt." He looked at me incredulously, I just rolled my eyes.
"Look, you want me to fix your leg or let you bleed? I'm sure as hell not using my shirt."
He frowned at me, eyes confused but peeled off the shirt to reveal the bullet proof vest underneath. I didn't even bother asking. I had one in my car so I couldn't pretend he was weird for wearing it. And it had probably saved his life.

I eyed him like a hawk as I slipped my gun into my waistband at the small of my back. I tore the shirt into strips, always keeping one eye on the guys hands. I would never have risked it if he hadn't been so obviously injured. In addition to the gunshot wound, there was blood at the left side of his mouth, and his cheek was swelling. I could see the mark the bullet left in his ballistics vest and could imagine the grief that was causing him. My hands were quick and proficient. He tried to follow my movements, but couldn't tell how I'd managed to get the bullet out without a knife, or any tools. He tried asking, I ignored him. A few minutes later I stood back up, and his leg must have felt significantly better, because he seemed at least moderately more comfortable. Relatively speaking. I stepped away from him, scraps of his shirt still in hand.

"Can you stand?"
He shifted slightly and grunted from the pain coursing from multiple wounds. "Not without help"
"Good." I walked over and picked up the discarded handgun, then moved towards the Goth kid. I paused only briefly, not even bothering to take his pulse. His face was gone. No coming back from that. I turned away before the memories started. I knelt beside the kid in the beater and to my surprise he groaned when I rolled him over.
"Shit.." Working quickly, I tried to dress the stomach wound. He was bleeding profusely, there was already more on the street then there probably was in his body, at least that's how it seemed. Miraculously, I managed to stave off any more blood loss. Looking down at the unconscious man, I wasn't even sure how I'd managed it. I dug my cell phone from my pocket cursing under my breath when I realized my hands were soaked with blood. I was in a bit of a daze. I left little bloody fingerprints on the keypad as I dialed 911.

I heard the guy moving as I dialed and reported hearing shots and seeing someone laying in an alleyway. I hung up when she asked my name. Thankfully, the dispatcher was someone new, so she wouldn't recognize my voice. The guy had scooted towards the wall a little, probably trying to find support to stand. His face was a mask of pain brought on by moving the injured leg. I just rolled my eyes at him. But he wasn't looking at me, he was looking past me.

The new arrival moved between the bodies like they weren't even there. He was dressed impeccably, light blue suit complementing his coffee and cream colored skin. He walked with an air of authority, and two men in tight black shirts that could only be one thing followed behind him. As he passed each body, one of the two bodyguards broke off to attend to the scene. The Goth kid was slung over one mans shoulder and coke was poured over the bloodstained street. I watched as the soda ate at the stains, fizzing over the asphalt until there was no trace of red.

"Shouldn't you call the police?"
He gave me a small smile. "There is no need to bother the authorities, we will take care of this ourselves. I'm sure Mr. Smith will appreciate the consideration." The other guard picked up the injured kid carefully, and moved back towards the club. "I just called an ambulance. He needs a hospital." This was getting more and more weird.
"We have an infirmary inside where we can take care of him. He will be fine. You have done an excellent job, Specialist O'Shea, I will be sure that you are commended to your commanding officers."
I stared at the man dumbly, how on earth did he know my name? Let alone my former rank?
"Are you a friend of Mr. Smith's?"
"He's an acquaintance.." I mumbled as I glanced at the wounded man.
"Lovely. I do apologize Mr. Smith, I was not entirely truthful with you." He proceeded to give the man a few details about the Union of the Snake, which, as far as I could tell, was the name of the gang these kids were a part of. But I couldn't help but notice that the information was far from concrete, and was pretty useless from my perspective. This guy, who seemed to be the club owner, was good at talking a lot without saying a lot. I'd heard of him before, his name was Sundown, and he owned a majority of the successful nightclubs and bars in the city. He was well connected, to say the least. I heard a scrap of a conversation once where someone referred to him as the King of Neutral.. but I never found any explanation to that one..

I helped the guy to his feet, mostly to support the story that we knew each other. Sundown made me nervous. He stood with one arm around my neck and I kept an arm around his waist for support. I was a few inches shorter than him, but at 5'10 the difference wasn't enough to make supporting him awkward. At least not physically.

"I do apologize Mr. Smith." Sundown extended his hand and "Mr. Smith" shook it hesitantly. What came next wasn't so much a vision as an intense feeling in the pit of my stomach. An instinctive fear that tells a creature to bolt, an instinctive fear most sentient beings are too stupid to head. Like seeing a shark in the water above you, black, soulless eyes watching you, waiting for the perfect moment to eat you whole. Mr. Smith inhaled sharply and my eyes widened a touch. Apparently we'd both felt it. Now I really wanted to get out of here. What the fuck was going on? Sundown did not acknowledge our reactions, merely shaking the guys hand firmly, and turning back to his club.

We surveyed the scene in amazement. Two pools of soda evaporating in the night air, and a small divot in the asphalt were the only evidences of the fight that took place a few minutes prior. I cleared my throat nervously. I was very, very aware that I was supporting a guy who I'd just seen shoot two people. I needed therapy. "Lets get out of here. Where are you parked?"
"In front of the club, but I've got a bike."
I hesitated. He wouldn't be able to manage on a bike with that leg. And a nagging voice in the back of my head kept insisting I needed to know more about this whole Natalie thing. I heaved a big sigh. "Then I guess I'm your ride."

We made slow going down the street. When we reached his bike, there was a yellow post-in note stuck to the seat. He picked it up and skimmed it quickly, then put it in his pocket. It read, "Mr. Smith, Please leave the keys in the tail bag. We will contact you with a time you can pick up your motorcycle." It was signed with a small picture of the setting sun. He went to the tail bag, dropped the keys in and was about to retrieve two 45s. I had my pistol in his side in under a second. But he held up his hands and gestured for me to take them myself. The look on his face was bored. It didn't really bother him that I was shoving a gun in his ribs. I scowled at him and slowly lowered the gun, taking the two .45s.
"You do realize we're leaving these in the back right?"
"Yeah, yeah. Why're you helping me anyway?"
I shrugged and eyed him, now in possession of three guns, one tucked into my waistband. "I'm curious. Other than that? I have no fucking clue. Whats your name anyway? Or do I have to call you Mr. Smith all night?"

As we walked to the jeep, Jaleel pulled out his cell phone. He dialed and put the phone up to his one good ear. The phone volume was turned up so loud that I couldn't help but hear both ends of the conversation. "Hey C-Love. I need a place a hideout for awhile. Can ya help me out?"
C-Love, the guy presumably on the other end of the phone, didn't sound as surprised as his words indicated. "Shoot nigga, why you need that?"
Jaleel paused, giving me a sidelong glance. I gave him a bland look. "I shot a couple people. Got shot."
"Shit man, what you go and do that for?"
"Union assholes were giving me shit." Jaleel said dryly.
"Man, why you even bothering with those assholes? ...yeah I got a place for ya. Meet me at 2846 Greatven."

Jaleel gave me directions as we passed through New Orleans. I probably looked pretty skeptical as he instructed me to pull into the drive way of a building that looked suspiciously like a stand alone garage. I looked a question at Jaleel when a man walked towards the car. I rolled down the window when Jaleel nodded. The new guys didn't seem to notice me in the drivers seat, practically leaning over me to talk to Jaleel.
"Hey nigga! Got you all set up man. Get your ass inside." He paused and noticed me for the first time. "Who's this?"
"She's cool, helped me out."
C-Love looked me over and I sat there with a bland expression on my face waiting to pass inspection.
He just shrugged. "Whatever man, just get inside."

It was certainly not an impressive layout. It was a single room, a small cot taking up one corner. The bare bulb was powered from a small generator that also provided power to the mini fridge that was stocked with cheap beer, a few sodas, and some bottled water. Empty pizza boxes and discarded candy bar wrappers had been piled carelessly in the corners. It wasn't luxurious, but it was certainly unobtrusive. I perched uncertainly on the cot, while C-love brought out two collapsible chairs for himself and Jaleel.
"So what's going on?" I asked. Bette to ask questions then to be forced to sit here quietly dwelling on my own, possibly lethal, stupidity.
Jaleel regarded me with some hostility when I spoke, absently flexing his ijured leg. His calf probably still felt like it was on fire.

Jaleel fell into one of the chairs. The fabric groaned against the abuse. C-love walked to the fridge and grabbed three beers. He tossed one to Jaleel, and took one for himself, replacing the last when I declined his offer with a wave of my hand. "I told you, I was looking for information on Natalie Palmer." jaleel said as turned to C-love. As though that answered my question. "You know a Natalie Palmer?"
"Whose bitch is that? Man, I don't know. What do you care?"
"Just trying to figure out what happened to her." Jaleel said, rather non-commitally.
"By askin' those Union fuckers? Man, you don't gotta lie to me. I know you were doing that for me. You got shot for me." C-Love grinned and lounged in the folding chair. The air of ego centrism was nearly palpable. I blinked at C-Love, then frowned at Jaleel. My opinion of both men plainly written across my face. Jaleel just scowled at me. "Fine, Look, I can't explain it, I don't even know what the fuck is going on."

He pulled a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and hit the speed dial, holding it up to his good ear. The voice that answered spoke without trace of any accent, unless one considered the waves of anger and irritation that colored his voice some kind of accent. "What?"
"Hey, I got someone you need to talk to. She wants to know what's going on." "Fucking.. Who is it? Why don't YOU tell her?" The irritation increased three fold.
"Fuck man, I don't even know what's goin' on myself. Besides, she helped me out, and she's my ride, so I can't ditch her." He made a point to not look at me as he said it.
"Fine. Fucking idiots, all of you.." And the phone went dead.

My expression didn't lighten at all, and Jaleel just shrugged, putting the phone back in his pocket. C-Love kept talking like he'd never been interrupted. I'm not even sure he knew Jaleel had made the call. "You can stay here for awhile man, but try not to make it too long. Don't want no one to get suspicious and shit. Too good a hideout to lose."
"Yeah, thanks, won't be here long. Got shit to do. I jsut wanted to have a place to come back to for a few days."
"Lay low man." C-Love stood and drained his beer. C-Love tossed the can into the corner where it bounced and rolled into the growing pile. He and Jaleel participated in an intricate handshake that I couldn't really follow, then he heaved open the metal garage door and left them alone in the safe house.

I crossed my arms over my chest and frowned. "Now what?"
Jaleel pushed himself to his feet, grimacing as he put weight on his right leg. "Now we go see everyone else, so they can tell you what's going on. I still don't know why you're hanging around."
"I'm naturally inquisitive." I said drolly. Then my expression became slightly pensive and I just shrugged. "Besides, you don't seem to be lying, but this shit doesn't seem like it could be true. I'm hoping it'll shed some light on some other unexplained things I've seen since I've been in New Orleans."
Jaleel accepted that with a grunt and turned towards the open garage door. I followed as he limped towards my Jeep and pulled the door down behind them, clicking the padlock into place. So much for a normal night out.


Jackie sat on the flimsy plastic chair, typing away at his laptop. The glow from the screen made his olive skin look ghost pale, tinged with gray. He completely ignored the sullen Italian man who paced the small floor space between the magazine rack and the small desk. The back office of the auto repair shop was small and looked relatively unused. Most of the work was done out front. There were a few books used for accounting and billing customers, a few chairs, and an old computer that looked like it was an artifact from the 1980s. The men were waiting impatiently for the others to arrive, actively ignoring each other. Both looked up as voices floated back from the front.

A grizzled older man walked into the back, followed by a huge rottweiller. He looked like he might be in his late thirties, but the scruffy, shoulder length hair and the full mustache beard combination made him look older. It was stringy and rough from salt water and sea air, his skin holding a permanent red flush both from the wind and the contents of the hip flask that was in constant attendance. A much younger man dragged in behind him. He looked about 18, and might be attractive under normal circumstances, but currently he walked hunched in on himself, eyes bloodshot and red rimmed. His hair was only as neat as running fingers through it could accomplish, and his entire appearance was haggard.

Jackie grinned at the younger man, talking with a thick Korean accent. "Damn Tommy, you look like shit. Welcome back." Tommy glared at Jackie coldly, grabbed his tool box from one of the shelves and disappeared into the bathroom. Karl looked after him with disdain. "Damn junkie."
Karl sat himself down in one of the vacant chairs. Danzig padded over and sat at his feet. "So what info did race car over there find?" Jackie asked. Karl shrugged at him. "Hell if I know, I just picked him up, I didn't interrogate him."

Everyone fell silent as Jaleel limped in, a frowning Harper trailing in behind him. Jackie made a disparaging noise in his throat. "What, are we picking up strays now? Who the hell is this?"

I frowned deeper and eyed the little Asian man. "Harper."
Jackie scowled. "Well aren't you a fountain of information."
I smirked at him humorlessly and leaned back against a wall. Of the three men (and one dog) in the room, none of them looked at me friendly. I maintained an air of nonchalant disdain to try and mask my extreme nervousness. From the conversation, I gleaned that the Asian was Jackie, and the gruff looking old guy that smelled like booze was Karl. I had no idea what the Italian guy's name was. He just glared daggers at me as I walked in. Of them all, he was the odd ball out. He was 5'7ish, and he wore lack slacks and black long sleeved button down with a mandarin collar. the clothes looked custom tailored. His black hair probably came past his shoulders, and was pulled back away from his face in a ponytail. He looked very out of place.

Jaleel stripped off his motorcycle jacket and fell into a chair, grimacing as he jarred his wounds. "She's my ride, and wants to know about Natalie." Karl nodded at the bandages spanning Jaleel's shoulder and chest.
"What happened to you?"
"Got into a tumble with some Union guys, trying to get information about Natalie. Got shot."
I smirked. "Twice. Once by them, once by me."
Jaleel glared at me as I spoke up. I just smiled sweetly.
"What? I told you to freeze."

Karl looked at Jaleel with incredulity. "You were shot.. by a woman?...Pussy."
My smirk turned into a glare, and Jaleel's attempt to beat the shit out of Karl was halted only by Jackie's startled exclamation. "Hah! Got it!" He looked at all of us and dramatically hit the Enter key on his laptop.

A young haggard looking guy opened the bathroom door and peered out, blinking several times before shuffling out into the office, obviously having trouble focusing on any one person in the room. He had a small vial clutched in one hand, from which he carefully tapped two drops of clear liquid, one into each eye. He was obviously on something, god knows what the drops were.

The Italian man, who had moved to peer over Jackie's shoulder, straightened himself and regarded the rest of us sourly. When he spoke I recognized him as the one on the other end of Jaleel's phone call. His voice was not any less angry or annoyed. "Well it seems like it's story time." He turned to me.
"Miss Natalie Ganier was murdered. She was shot, and her throat slit. Unfortunately, she has decided not to stay at rest. We have been enlisted to discover the details of Miss Ganier's death."
I raised a brow. "By whom?"
"By Natalie. Until we solve this charming little mystery, her ghost will not leave us alone...which does beg the question... Why, might I ask, are you here still here, Miss Harper? You are no longer needed to escort Jaleel."

I looked down at the floor and shrugged. "Curiosity."
The man breathed out slowly and rotated his head, causing his neck to crack in a show of obvious restraint. "Very well, though I suggest you leave before Miss Ganier decides to bring you into her fold, and you no longer have that option, assuming its not already too late. Now, Jackie has been so kind as to procure us more suitable accommodations for our little meetings, so we shall retire to there." His pacing had brought him to stand right in front of me. He turned, making a sweeping gesture towards the door. "After you, Harper." My name said with an unfriendly sneer. I knew I wasn't the brightest ray of sunshine, but this guy made me look down right cheerful by comparison. Who the fuck pissed in his cheerios? I walked out in front of him and could feel him boring holes in the back of my skull with his pissy stare.

Everyone stood and moved to the exit.


The air around the abandoned church was thick with moisture. The moon gave a hazy glow, half obscured by passing clouds, providing eerie illumination. Crickets chirped loudly, unconcerned with the group gathered in front of the steps. The door to the church was closed with three boards spanning its width, all visible windows completely sealed against the elements in the same manner.

Karl crossed his arms over his chest. "What the hell are we doing at a church?" Jackie grinned proudly. "This is our new headquarters. It was put up for sale after Katrina. Something about too much damage, or foreclosure, or something like that. Bought in the name of the New Orleans Historical Preservation Society."
Karl grunted and walked over to the high kid's toolbox, (I think his name was Tommy) and dug for a crowbar. The guy was too busy scrutinizing the dilapidated church to notice.

The planks clattered to the ground and the faint scent of mold wafted out from the entrance as the door swung inward. The interior of the church was stripped bare of adornments. Debris was everywhere. The floors were bare wood, a few of the boards warped from water damage, all cushions had been taken off the pews, which seemed glued to the floor. The alter looked naked and lonely at the front of the room, free of cloth and communion articles. Pieces of the stained glass windows were missing, sections which should have included Christ's left hand, Gabriel's right eye, and the dove coming down from Heaven. The crucifix still hung above the alter, the image of Christ's murder built straight into the wall. It managed to make the gutted church seem even more eerie, as though the absent congregation had not only abandoned their church, but him as well. Or maybe I was just in a dark mood.

We filed into the room slowly, everyone taking in the atmosphere silently. Tommy stood near the back, taking in all the sights. He looked like he was examining things in the pews that weren't there. He waved his hand at about eye level, and said "Hello?" as though talking to someone no one else could see. Seriously.. what was this guy on? He looked around as mist began to roll through the room, covering the floor until no one could see their feet. Tommy blinked at the mist and looked up at the altar, waving. "Hi, Natalie."

All eyes turned to Tommy. Jaleel looked around the room expectantly. "Natalie? Where?"
"Right there!" He pointed to the altar. My breathe caught in my throat as the girl's visage swam into view. The woman stood about 5'4, wearing torn jeans and tight t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. Her throat gaped near the base of her neck, the wound forming a grotesque second mouth going clear from ear to ear. She wasn't completely solid, and the mist seemed to roll around her feet like it was alive.

No one else caught a glimmer of their poltergeist, apparently, because they all just looked around, perplexed, while I had a nervous breakdown.

"Holy fuck." I grasped the edge of the pew and lowered myself into a sitting position. Jackie scowled at me. "Now she can see her too? Christ." He picked up his feet gingerly, trying not to step in the mist that covered the floor. He sat himself down in a pew and pulled out his laptop, sitting Indian style so his feet didn't trail in the fog.

"I can't fucking believe this..." My voice came out as a whisper. The Italian man rolled his eyes at me, his voice full of scorn. "Yes, because I would spend my time with these idiots simply because I wanted too. Now that she has appeared to you it can most likely be assumed that you are just as obligated to find her killer as we are. Congratulations." He turned and stormed off into the rectory, slamming the door behind him.

I just sat and stared at the apparition. She looked at me like she was memorizing me, only turning away when Tommy said something to her, and she'd respond by moving her lips, but no sound ever came out. A bit hard to talk with a slit throat. I didn't even hear what he was saying. I was too busy trying to wrap my head around what I was witnessing. I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified that I'd followed Jaleel here tonight.

"So do you know who killed her?" I asked, and my voice was barely a whisper.
"Someone within the Union of the Snake we think..." Tommy replied, and Natalie's respond was immediate. Her face contorted in rage and everyone in the room seemed to make some minor noise of pain. I felt a throbbing behind my eye.
"Shit, do you have to piss her off? Goddammit." Jackie pressed the heel of his hand to his head and let out a string of colorful curses in Korean.

"So.. what do you know so far?" I asked, without taking my eyes off Natalie. The display of anger seemed to drain her, because she suddenly sagged with fatigue and slowly started to fade away.
Karl grunted from his pew. "Goddamn you're nosy, fucking women.."
That was enough to tear my gaze away from the ghost. "Oh I'm sorry.. should I just stare dumbly at the ghost and hope really hard that someone finds her killer for us? I didn't know that was the strategy here. My sincerest apologies." Fucking chauvinist asshole sonofabitch.
Karl scowled at me. "Us? Fucking shit. We don't need a woman's help."
I stood, Karl's attitude rousing me from my shocked stupor. "Sucks to be you then doesn't it?" I pointed to the alter, where the visage of Natalie was no longer visible. "You don't get to decide who helps. She does."
I stalked off through one of the side doors and slammed it behind me. It cut off any retorts Karl could have offered.

I found myself in one of the prayer rooms. A small, clean room that was built for private communion with God. It was empty now, stripped of its furnishings and meaning. I leaned against the wall and let myself slide to the floor. I was scared. Not of the people I was with, if they'd meant to hurt me then they would have already. No, I was scared shitless of the implication of all this. Ghosts? What else might be out there? What else might actually be real? But as scared as I was, that question only served to illicit one response from the back of my head.. that now, I had to find out. Terrifying or not, I had to know.

What the hell had I gotten myself into?

March 3, 2010

Day in the life of a New Orleans Paramedic

((( more on Harper before the supernatural shit. This was a long ass time ago, so I don't recall a lot of it, but the main points are the same. I won't be going through the entire chronicle from start to present because I don't remember a lot of it. But I will hit on a few fun scenes that I DO remember. This is a bit more narrative because it was originally written in third person and I adapted it to first person.. and because she was much less introspective back then.))

I lifted the back of the gurney up and slid it into the ambulance. I peeled off my latex gloves and tossed them into the biohazard trash bag that sat in the back of the van, running clean hands through my sweat dampened red hair.

Helluva day.

I closed the doors and turned to survey the scene. The street still bore the dark stain of blood where the man had been shot. He was stabilized and breathing easily in the back despite the several gunshot wounds decorating his lower torso.

There were people around, some watching, some milling, no one looking particularly friendly, and no one looking at all disturbed by the incident. But then, I was in the middle of Treme. Shootings happened all too often in this part of New Orleans. The people were desensitized. There was empirical testing to prove it. I'd heard that police had come here once and fired off 250 rounds into the air then recorded how many people called in to report the gunshots. They didn't receive a single call.

I also stuck out like a sore thumb, even without the soundlessly flashing ambulance lights. I all was too aware that I was the lightest skinned person within 10 square miles of my current location. Even my partner was black, though not a resident of the local neighborhood. But this added sense of incongruence did little to phase me. I'd never really felt at home in any type of social situation. So this was no different really.

The skin between my shoulder blades began to itch as I became aware that someone was staring. My eyes followed the lines of the apartment balconies and stopped on the third floor. A man stood on his ledge regarding me in a fashion that made me acutely uncomfortable. There was nothing sexual or menacing in his gaze, but I nevertheless felt distinctly unsettled. He was not physically imposing, average height, though he was leaning forward with his forearms resting on the balcony railing so it was hard to tell. He looked fit, but was not a hugely muscled individual. His hair fell to his shoulders in thin dreadlocks, but his most prominent, and chilling, feature was his eyes. Even at a distance they struck me as odd, and impressive. They were a clear, bright, sky blue and watched me with interested intensity. His posture indicated careless indifference, but his eyes said otherwise. He was creepy, and he was staring at me. Belatedly, I noticed the tall, slender woman who had been standing next to him slip discreetly back into the apartment after the man murmured in her ear.

"You ready O'shea?" I jumped slightly as my partner leaned out the drivers side door. He grinned at me in good humor. "C'mon girl. Paramedics aren't usually on the hit list, no matter how white they are. Lets get goin'." A small irritated frown creased my lips, to which he only grinned wider.

"Gimme a minute, I need to talk to someone." I said and turned before he could stop me. His eyebrows disappeared under the bill of his hat as he watched me turn my back on him and walk toward the apartment building. He settled into the drivers seat muttering about crazy white girls playing detective. I ignored him.

I had always been overly curious, and it frequently got me into trouble, but that never stopped me. I didn't really know what I was looking for when I did things like this. But it was something. Something I had to find that always seemed two steps ahead of me. So I did stupid shit like this, in hopes that I'd stumble across it.. whatever it was.

The blue eyed man watched as me approached the building, eyes following my every movement. I felt like a lab rat under observation. He seemed content to stare me down as I stopped right below his porch. I cleared my throat, ran my fingers back through my drying hair, then cleared my throat again. How the hell was I supposed to start this conversation? The man watched me with an amused and slightly condescending smile on his face. That was enough to force words from my mouth. I hated being patronized.

"Did you see what happened?" I grimaced, fully realizing how silly this endeavor was, and how foolish I probably seemed.

The man grinned wider at my apparent discomfort. He had a slight trace of an accent, and I'd been in New Orleans long enough to recognize it as Haitian. "Naw, just heard the shots. Came out to see what the commotion was all about."

I shifted nervously, grasping my right elbow with my left hand, arm stretched across my stomach. It was a stance normally reserved for younger individuals, and something I caught myself doing unconsciously when I felt... self conscious. I did it a lot, and I hated it.

"Do you know him?"

The man's dreadlocks fanned slightly as he shook his head. "Just a neighborhood kid, never met him personally, but I seen him around. Name was.. DJ Bullis, if I remember correctly. Ran around with one of those gangs..You know how all these kids are. Probably just pissed someone off. Happens all the time. What hospital you taking him to?"

I nodded slowly. I didn't really know what I'd expected to find out, but something about him had compelled me to ask. "What about her?" I gestured to the open patio door.

The man glanced over his shoulder into the apartment. "You can ask her if you like. Suzette! Medico's got a couple questions for you."

The slender woman appeared back out on the balcony, blinking down at me. She was slender with dark hair. She wore a long brown sift skirt and a pale yellow tank top. Her neck was adorned with pendants on leather thongs and numerous strands of beads, her eyes a normal harm honey color. She looked at me expectantly but didn't speak. It was a little weird. Like this whole situation. I must be going nuts.

"Do you know this kid? Or see what happened?" Suzette shook her head but remained silent.

"What hospital you takin' him to?" The man asked again.

I hesitated before answering the guy, but it would be easy enough to find out anyway. "Charity."

He nodded in recognition. I cleared my throat again, suddenly anxious to be away from this disconcerting couple. "Thanks for the help. Sorry to have bothered you."

"Always a pleasure. And Medico, best if you don't approach anyone else. No one ever sees anything." A small smirk played across his face as I regarded him. Solemnly, I turned and strode back to the ambulance, getting in the back with the victim. I caught one last glimpse of the man's unearthly blue eyes as I pulled the door shut, a chill slithering down my spine as the vehicle pulled away from the scene. I worked hard to ignore James as he berated me for playing detective with a gunshot victim sitting in the back. He was stable. He'd be fine...because as much as I couldn't stand myself.. I knew I was at least a damn fine medic

The incident was forgotten for the next 12 hours. In that time span I had almost forgotten even those eerie blue eyes. I sat in the Emergency Room waiting area of St. Christine's, long legs stretched out in front of me as I sank as low as possible into the thinly padded armchair. I closed my eyes and willed myself to relax. The adrenaline was draining away, leaving me exhausted and hungry. The shift had ended an hour ago and by all rights I should be home and in bed by now. I was so tired I doubted I'd even need the morphine to help me sleep.

But Charity Hospital had called requesting I come and sign a few things right as I had turned on the ignition in my Jeep Commander. I always hated these calls. It usually meant that the hospital was afraid of some lawsuit from one of the patients I had brought in. When I had walked through the glass sliding doors, the nurse had scurried away like a scared rabbit to find the appropriate document. That had been 15 minutes ago. At odds with the harsh glare of the florescent lights, the chill of the overworked air conditioning system, and the chairs made intentionally uncomfortably to discourage overnight visitors, I still managed to dose off briefly.

I was abruptly awoken as a clipboard was slammed down on the laminated countertop. The nurse gave me a bland look that held no trace of an apology. The scared nurse was no where to be seen.

I rubbed my eyes and willed them to focus on the page in front of me. I scanned it carefully, then re-read it. Twice. I was suddenly more awake. Dead? From a blood infection? How was that possible? He had been completely stabilized when I brought him in, fuck, he had even looked healthy. I knew the attending physician, he wasn't one to make such fatal errors. And so quickly? He had only been admitted 12 hours ago, and at that time had been completely infection free. Logically, I knew that infections sometimes found their way into the body despite all precautions, but I was shaken. Things like this didn't happen to my patients. It just felt wrong. The nurse cleared her throat impatiently and I realized I'd had been staring at the paper for several minutes and was gripping the pen so hard that my hand was trembling. I took a deep breath and steadied myself. Wouldn't do to let the hospital staff see I was having a small mental breakdown. Over one patient. I scrawled my signature across the bottom of the paper and flipped through the other pages just to be thorough. On the third page another name caught my eye. It was the signature of the next of kin who the body had been released to. Some people chose not to have a mortuary take care of such things, and with such a high concentration of Voudun practitioners in New Orleans, it wasn't unusual that a family member would chose to use non-traditional burial procedures. The handwriting looked neat, but hurried, the name of Suzette Williams easily discernible.

Curiouser and curiouser. I put down the pen and slide the clipboard back to the nurse, who grabbed it impatiently and stomped over to a filing cabinet.

I turned and walked out of the waiting room, taking several deep breaths of the morning air. Even with the humidity and the fumes it tasted a hundred times better to me than the stale, recycled, hospital atmosphere.

I was a naturally inquisitive person, but what I was considering just seemed insane. Surely the police would investigate if there was something amiss, if the body had been stolen. I shouldn't start playing Nancy Drew.

You'll just get yourself into trouble O'Shea. I knew that inner voice (that, oddly, never really sounded like me..) was right.. I knew it would be wise to leave it alone, what business was it of mine? But even that internal warning couldn't dispel the feeling of intense curiosity and the burning need to follow down the foggy trail that was stretching out in front of me. I felt pressed to continue on it, and considering I felt as though I had been wandering aimlessly for my entire life, common sense could not deter me from the first firm direction I'd ever felt inclined to take. Odd how I felt so committed to something that was probably nothing more than a combination of clinical errors and misunderstandings. I slid into the drivers seat and the jeep rumbled to life.

I was thankful that it was still early morning as I pulled into the parking lot of the apartments. I slid into one of the parking spaces and tried to ignore the hostile glaces from the early risers. I didn't have the ambulance or the uniform on to protect me this time. They seemed less than impressed by my jeans and gray tank top with "Army" stenciled on the front. I looked up at the third floor, searching for the right apartment, and was surprised to see the blue eyed man out on the balcony again. Staring at me again. This was monumentally stupid. I nodded to him and moved towards the stairs and he disappeared back into the apartment, presumably to meet me at the door.

I knocked once at room 324 and the door opened almost instantly. The man gave me his amused and superior smile. "Whats up medico?" I consciously stopped my nervous shifting before it began. "I just have a few more questions about that shooting, if you don't mind."

"Come on in." He stepped aside, closing the door softly as I entered the apartment.

The room wasn't nice, but it was clean and well kept. It smelled of cigarettes and other smokey odors that I couldn't readily identify. Dried flowers decorated the tops of the off white walls, and a portrait of an old white woman hung above the faded coach. She looked ancient and wore a rather unsettling grin. A small fired clay ashtray sat on the coffee table, a cigar smoldering merrily within it. Beside it sat a half full glass of a dark, amber colored liquid. The man walked into the kitchen and called back over his shoulder. "Get ya a drink?"

I answered absently, walking around the small room, eyes roaming across the details. "Please. Rum and Coke if you've got it."

He let out an amused chuckle. "You start early Medico."

"Huh?" I glanced at my watch and shrugged, then realized he couldn't see my gesture from the kitchen. "Haven't been to bed yet, overnight shift." The conversation was cut off by the muffled sounds of clinking glasses, and the fridge opening and closing. Under all that noise I heard a steady drumming.

I paused in my trek around the living area and listened. It was some kind of music, maybe a stereo, but all she could make out was the thrumming bass. I moved toward the small hallway that led to the bedrooms. The door half way down the hall was not snug in its frame. the wood was warped slightly, leaving a gap wide enough to see through. The quality of the light coming from the slit suggested candles, or a fire, instead of an electric bulb. The music pulsed from behind the door. I pressed my finger tips against the wood on either side of the crack and leaned forward after glancing at the kitchen to be sure the man was still busy.

It was difficult to see far into the room. The gap was small and gave a very limited line of sight. There were candles everywhere, some in jars, others sitting in pools of their own wax. The music sounded almost tribal, rhythmic and deep. There was little else to it besides the drums. There was a table in the middle of the room, and someone lying on it, but all I could see was the bare feet. Every few moments someone would pass by the door, moving in a frantic and somewhat sensual manner, as though it were a dance. I caught glimpses of cream and coffee colored skin, and a light sheen of sweat. There wasn't a stitch of cloth I could see on either figure.

The man cleared his throat behind me and I jerked back from the door. He spoke before I could come up with a valid excuse for my rudeness.

"Suzette'll be in there awhile. Takes time to put the dead to rest." He motioned for me to follow him back into the living room. I sat perched on the edge of the overstuffed coach, sipping my drink absently once he handed it to me. As usual, it had the after taste of whiskey sour. I never could figure out why that had been happening lately. It was fucking annoying.

He sat opposite me in a gray armchair. "I thought you said you didn't know the kid Mr.." I groped for his name, then realized he'd never given it to me.

"Trevian. But everyone just calls me Third."

"Harper." I offered my hand, and he shook it firmly. It was a good handshake, he didn't try to crush my hand to prove he was tough, I noticed a lot of men, in this area particularly, tried to make me cry uncle, it was just a handshake, though his hand was ice cold. "A pleasure."

The grin I had noticed when they first met appeared again on his lips. "I don't know the kid, not well at least. But we're all the family he's got. Living in Treme, we gotta look out for each other ya know?"

I nodded slowly. Third stood and walked over to a bookcase. The shelves were bowed in the middle and the paint had started to peel. He took a cigar from a small brown box, lit it with a wooden match, and placed it in the ashtray on the coffee table. The old cigar had smoldered down to almost nothing. He never pulled the cigar to his mouth. Instead, he returned to his chair and pulled a pack of cigarettes and a bronze zippo out of his pocket. I declined his offer with a wave of my hand as he held the pack out to me. Shrugging, he sat back and put one between his lips, lighting it then snapping the zippo closed.

I set the drink on the coffee table, the rings stained into the wood indicated that I wasn't the first to do so without a coaster. I rubbed my sweaty palms against my thighs and glanced nervously over my shoulder. The music continued to pound through the walls. I wondered what exactly I thought this would accomplish. "What is she doing in there?"

"Suzette is sending him on, trying to secure safe passage for him to the other side."

"What do you mean?"

"You know anything about Voudun medico?"

I shook my head. "Next to nothing. Haven't been in New Orleans very long."

"Suzette is asking the gods, the Loa, to help our friend to the other side. The Loa that watch over death are the Ghede. Ya see, the Loa aren't like most gods. You ask favors, give offerings, and hope they feel like grantin' your request. They're more like us, only with more power." He gestured to the portrait above the couch, and the rum and cigar on the table, still untouched. "We offer Manma Brijit and her husband, Baron Samedi, what they wants, and hope that they looks on us favorably for it."

"And if they don't feel like granting your request?"

"Well, then his spirit won't be protected and his body will rise up as a zombie." He grinned at me, making it hard to tell if he believed that would happen himself. I tried not to look skeptical.

"We is just trying to do right for the boy. And what about you Medico, whats it matter to you?" Smoke trailed from his mouth and nose as he spoke. I thought it was weird, I hadn't once seen him exhale any of the smoke on purpose..

I shifted uncomfortably and shrugged. "I didn't even know he died. It was bothering me." I said, as though that answered his question, when obviously, it did not. I didn't really know why I was here. But something wasn't right, and I still couldn't figure out what it was. But he didn't ask again, just nodded like that explained it all.

I sipped my drink, the only sound for a few moments the clink of the ice cubes. It was a distinctly uncomfortable silence. I had no idea what else to ask the guy.. why in gods name was I even here? Third just watched me, smoke trickling out of his nose. After what seemed like hours, but was probably no more than a minute, he rescued me. "It's nice to see someone takin' an interest in the kids down here. Most people just write 'em off.Is there anythin' else I can do for you Medico?"

I drained my glass and set it on the table. "I guess not. Sorry to have bothered you.." we stood at the same time and he just smiled at me.

"Stop by anytime, medico." and he walked to me to the door.


Another day, another call. Treme again. It had been a few days since I'd gone on my fruitless detective kick. I'd had a couple days to convince myself that nothing was amiss and that I'd been stupid. Inwardly, I was a little disappointed. I had wanted it to lead somewhere. Anywhere. But it ended up being another dead end.. like everything else I tried to do.

This kid couldn't have been more than 16.. and was DOA. Multiple stab wounds to the abdomen. It was pretty messy. James and I loaded up the gurney and were moving to leave when I noticed him. In the crowd of people gawking at the gore, there was someone familiar. I stared at him, and he just stared straight ahead, eyes glassy and unfocused, like he wasn't all there. It was the kid.. the Bullis kid. I suddenly heard Third's words in my head again.. talking about zombies.

"Hey! Red! lets get the fuck outta here!" James called out from the driver's seat. I glanced at him through the open passenger side door, then back out to the crowd. The kid was gone. I scanned the group a few extra seconds then jumped into the EMS.

"You okay girl?" James asked as he pulled the vehicle out onto the street.

"Yeah.. yeah. Just tired." I couldn't believe that I honestly jumped to 'zombie'. But that's what he looked like. No decayed flesh or anything, but like no one was home upstairs. Drugs probably. Bullis had a junkie brother. I settled myself lower in the seat and pulled my hat down over my eyes.

"How long has it been since you had a day off, Red?"

I shrugged without looking up. "Awhile. I picked up a shift from Darren yesterday, and traded with Kat on Monday..."

"No, you worked with me on Monday."

"Must've been last Monday then.."

James just laughed. "Do me a favor and don't pick up a shift tomorrow. I know, I know.. you like to work.. but holy fuck Harper. You're getting all weird on me, and it's making me nervous."

I smiled a little. "Fine."

Truth was, I didn't have anything else to do besides work. Work helped me not think about the shit I didn't feel like thinking about. It also gave me an excuse not to call or fly up to see my folks. Maybe a day off would be good..I let myself dose a little as we headed to the morgue, but that kids face kept showing up. And there were others. Glimpses of people I knew had died, up and walking around. Always in that area of town. I always wrote it off as nerves, sleep deprivation, or similar looking family.

But something was gnawing at me that wouldn't let me let it go this time. Something about this was important. Or that could just have been me projecting, like I had when I went to Third's place. Maybe James was right. I decided to tell Mark I couldn't take his shift tomorrow, and I'd go out tonight and get a fucking drink. Hopefully this time it wouldn't taste like a goddamn whiskey sour..