April 2, 2010

Running with Driscoll

((More flashbacks.. more info on Driscoll. This guy was fun, and I miss him now that he's not haunting Harper anymore.))

The last week had been draining. I had learned so much more about the world than I ever wanted to know. Vampires ruling the New Orleans night life and vying for power, gang bangers being made into zombies, and Brigitte. Brigitte who knew more than any seemingly harmless old woman should. Brigitte who probably wasn't anywhere close to harmless in any sense of the word.. and Brigitte, who gave me the means to see and talk to the ghost that was haunting me.

I wasn't sure I wanted to.

Brigitte was a wealth of knowledge, and on our side, from what I could tell. She was Jaleel's grandmother, and lived out in the middle of all the gators in the swamps. her house was old, and decorated in mid period bayou fortune teller chic. Wind chimes made of chicken bones, pieces of dead things in jars on shelves, pouches, boxes, bags and satchels containing god knew what. It was fascinating, and a bit surreal.

But right now, I didn't want to think about any of it. I had been inundated with this shit for the last few days, and I desperately sought a reprieve, a return to normalcy, at least temporarily. I couldn't ever go back to my ignorant state of being, and to be honest, I didn't want to, but that didn't mean I couldn't aim for moments free from monsters that go bump in the night. I needed a break.

I slid into the jeep and tossed my duffel bag into the passengers side. I hadn't told anyone where I was going, but it didn't matter. I may be much more involved in all this supernatural shit than I would ever be comfortable with, but that didn't mean I had to report my every move to that damn Italian or anyone else. They had my cell number.

I started the engine and pulled out of the gravel and grass lot. We had taken to parking in the back of the church, instead of the front parking lot, to avoid sparking anyone's curiosity. Right now the lot was empty, everyone with a vehicle was off, presumably living the normal part of their lives. Jackie was still inside the church, and the rectory door had been closed as I left, which could mean anything, including that neither Jackie or Giuseppe HAD normal parts of their lives. The stereo was turned up too loud as I pulled out, blaring shitty New Orleans radio music. I clicked it off and fished my cell phone out of the duffel bag, holding speed dial number 3 as I turned onto the main road. It seemed to ring forever before anyone picked it up.

"You know, at first I was going to screen this call, I don't normally get calls from strange numbers. But then I thought, 'Who do I know who would be calling me from the ass crack of Lousianna?' How're you doing O'shea?"
I smiled for the first time in a couple days and immediately felt just a little bit better. Sergent Nel had been my superior officer in the Army, and he'd always looked out for me.
"Hey Sarg. How you doing?"
"Okay. Misses' got a bun in the oven."
"Hey, congratulations, your first right?"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure it's mine."
I just chuckled and shook my head, though I knew he couldn't see it. I was all too familiar with his sense of humor, and I'd met Nel's wife on several occasions. They were crazy about each other.
"So to what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call?"
I hesitated. I was reluctant to drag him into all this, in any way, but I'd already made the call. Too late to back out now. Besides, he knew shit, and I needed the intel. "Well, I was hoping you could help me out a little. Do you know anything about a group called 'The Union of the Snake'?"
"Just that they're a gang of yuppie teenagers running around in New Orleans. Fancy themselves as some New Age cult. They're relatively new. From what I can tell, its just another venue for emo kids to whine and complain about how their lives are so hard living in upper middle class white suburbia."
"Any clue what they.. believe?"
"Not really. Seems mostly to be a bunch of mismashed gibberish. I do know that there are a few brains behind the whole thing. It's too organized at times for the kids to be the only ones running it. That's the one thing that keeps me from saying they're harmless. They've supposedly pulled off some pretty shady shit, and got away clean."
I frown to myself, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel in thought. "No evidence?"
He laughed. "Oh there was evidence. These guys aren't subtle. I'm not sure how they managed it, but I can look into it for you if you want."
I grimaced. "Yeah, I'd appreciate it."
"Just give me awhile, I'll call you back."
"Okay, thanks for the help Sarg. I appreciate it."
"Sure thing. Hey O'Shea, can I ask you a personal question?"
"How are you doing, really?"

I paused, then sighed. I rubbed my bloodshot eyes with my free hand, steering with my knees. "It's been an... interesting week. Stressed, but coping."
He didn't really sound convinced. "Okay, well you take care out there O'Shea, I'll call you back if I find anything on your Union boys. And I'll tell the little whore you said hi. Later."

I shut my phone and sighed again. For a brief moment, I had wanted to tell him everything. And while he wasn't usually a skeptic, who wouldn't lock me up for psycho-babble like that? I was on my own, for now. Me and the other virtual strangers back at the church.

I turned into a gas station parking lot and turned off the engine. Across the street there was a small park cut into the denser marshland. I set the phone aside, pulled my hair back out of my face, tying it off with a rubber band. After some preliminary stretches, I took off at a slow jog that wouldn't cause my knee any unnecessary pain around the running paths that cut through the trees. I focused on my breathing, on my stride, on the stretching pain in her my, on anything besides vampires, ghosts, or bayou fortune tellers. I kept my pace around the trails for a little over an hour before my knee began to throb. I slowed to a walk and grimaced at the shooting pain that had started up my leg. I should really go back to that physical therapist.. I leaned against a tree to take the weight off the knee and regained my breath. I had worked up a light sweat, more due to the intense humidity than the physical exertion. I kept myself in shape, if only because I used jogging as a stress reliever. It helped me forget for awhile.

But I wasn't allowed to forget for very long this time. Once I stopped moving and the dog tags in my shirt settled against my chest, I noticed how cold they were. I pulled them out and examined them. Not frosted, but definitely colder than they should be. I clenched my jaw and walked back to the jeep. I fished the vial out of my duffel bag, and retreated back to the trees, stepping off the running trail and walking for a few minutes to be sure I was out of sight and hearing range of any unintentional eavesdroppers.

I took a deep breath to steel myself, and added a drop from the vial into each eye, and one to my tongue. The liquid felt odd going into my eyes, like a puff of air and there was no excess to leak down my cheeks. The world shifted into black and white, just as before, only this time I noticed the wildlife sounds became muted, as though someone had put cotton in my ears. I swallowed the lump in my throat when I saw Driscoll sitting on the log in front of me, looking just as he had when he died. He wore the same fatigues and the gaping part of his skull seemed to taunt me. The only thing he was missing was his dogtags, which I still held in my hand, and his normal smile. No, there was no smile now. His eyes screamed hatred and his lips twisted into a sneer. I wrapped my left arm around my stomach, still clutching the tags in my right hand. Some part of me hated to see him look at me like that, but I shoved it down and away.

"What do you want Driscoll?" I tried my best to keep my voice even.
His sneer turned up slightly at the edges, becoming a rather nasty smile.
"You dead, of course."
I visible shivered. My thoughts were racing, confused. "But why? You never hated me before."
"No, but you hated me didn't you?" He sneered again, his voice thick with scorn that I'd never heard in life. It felt like an ice pick in my back.
"What was it that bothered you so much O'Shea? That everyone loved me? That those same people never noticed you at all? Is that why you stole my name?" He paused to let it sink in. His eyes narrowed and his voice became dangerously low.
"You could have taken anything else for a sovereign, like the bullet. But you had to take my name."
I fidgeted, throwing my hands in the air, trying my damnedest to keep my cool. "Fuck Driscoll, it's not like it did anything. You got your damn hero's funeral, I've even been to your grave."
His eyes flashed angrily and his expression was angry and mocking.
"And I bet you couldn't stand that either. You know that's not the point."
I started pacing in agitation. "What the fuck do you want from me Driscoll?"
"I already told you. I want you dead."
I scowled and turned to face him, arms crossed. "Then why did you help me? Why etch that information on the tags?"
He smiled, rather unsettlingly. "Because I want to be the one to kill you, O'Shea. I can't let anyone else go and ruin my fun now can I?" He stalked forward until he was right up in my face. I took a step back involuntarily to avoid touching him. He leered at me, dropped his voice to a whisper and leaned in towards my ear. Goosebumps marched down the right side of my body. I had to close my eyes, his ruined skull was so close.
"And you won't ever see it coming, O'Shea. Do you have any idea how long I've been waiting for you to realize I was watching your every move? I'm not going anywhere, O'Shea, and I'll drag you down with me, if its the last thing I do."

I opened my eyes and took two quick steps back, trying to formulate a retort, but he was gone. The world was starting to slowly regain color. My eyes were watering so badly that tears were coursing down my cheeks like I'd been crying.

I released a shaky breath. All the good my run had done me was now gone. I felt a cold knot in the pit of my stomach that just wouldn't loosen. It felt bitter and sad, and i hated myself for it, and I hated Driscoll for it even more. I tucked the dog tags back into my shirt and walked slowly back to the jeep. They were my tags now, and I had no intention of parting with them. He could get over it. How much mischief can an incorporeal being cause anyway?.. I felt like crying, but couldn't really understand why. I ignored it. I clenched my fists tightly, fingernails biting into my palms. I slid into the jeep and grabbed the steering wheel so tightly that my knuckles were white. I nearly jumped out of my skin when my cell rang. I dropped it twice before I managed to answer the call, breathless.

"Damn, O'Shea. been running from the cops?"
I relaxed into the seat. God bless distractions. "Something like that. That was fast, Sarg.. did you find something for me?"
"I did, I don't know how useful it will be, but here it is. Apparently these Union guys have one helluva lawyer. That's why none of them have seen the inside of a jail cell for longer than a couple days. He always manages to get the charges dropped, evidence labeled as inadmissible, or just straight out-argues the prosecution. he's good. And he's not cheap."
"So who is bank rolling it?"
"Hell if I know. The brains behind the cult? What bothers me about all this, O'Shea, is that someone cares enough to keep these kids out of jail. It makes me wonder what they're planning. But then, I'm the paranoid type."
I sat up straighter. I'd finally found what could be a lead. "Don't think its they're folks?"
He grunted. "Doubtful. Most of the kids come from middle class homes, this guy is expensive with a capital "E". Too rich for most of these families. These kids seem to be his main source of income, as far as I can tell. I mean, he represents them so much, I don't see how he can have the time to do many other cases. And based on the way this guy dresses, it ain't pro bono work."
"You got a name for me?"
"But of course. Isaiah Collins."
I let out a low whistle.
"You've heard of him?"
"Oh yeah. I've heard of him. Thanks Sarg, you've been a huge help."
"Yeah yeah.. just do me a favor."
I smiled slightly. "You name it."
"Be careful. Something about this doesn't feel right, and I'd hate to have to come down there and pull your ass outta the fire because some punk kids are too much for you to handle."
I smirked to myself. "I have backup, don't worry about me."
"Backup eh? The kind that can take bullets to the chest? Because if not, I'm not impressed."
"Sarg, you have no idea."
"Not sure I want to. Take care O'Shea."
"You too."

I tossed the phone on top of my bag and dug the heels of my hands into my tired eyes. It was something, at least.. the name of the lawyer. Could get us somewhere.. I should probably tell the others...

I started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot, but I drove in the direction of my apartment. I wasn't ready to dive back into the surreal world yet. I needed a bit more normalcy. They could wait on the information. My apartment was familiar, providing me with decent food, a real bed, and enough morphine to help me forget the last hour, at least temporarily.

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