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26. The Art of Drowning

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Doyle was dead, that’s the point. That’s the most relevant event of the time. It’s possibly the only truly relevant event from here on out. The boss was dead. Long live the King, right? Now what?

Cassidy was a street demon. He was too young, too small to handle it by himself. He couldn’t just take over the whole operation. Times like these I miss Draven and Vagrant. They’ve been gone for half of forever. God I miss them. We’re lacking in legends these days. They’re too busy killing one another.

I went back to work. It gave me something to do. We played; the makeshift band that is. Lacking Requiem, Grey and Cassidy would pitch in from time to time, depending on Serkis’ presence. She was missing more and more these days. I never saw Sylum at all. I think she dealt with him, so things got taken care of. It took a bit of time, compiling rumors, but eventually there was a meeting of the remaining family members. And the story was set straight.

Doyle was at home alone. Pandora wasn’t there that night. It was pointed out that she spent massive amounts of time at Doyle’s, so her lacking presence was suspicious in itself. Cassidy was telling the story. He’s assumed a role as authority figure. He was instructed to start and rant until Serkis got there. He gave us the set up. Doyle was home alone. It was early in the evening. There was a knock at the door. There was no proof of a struggle or forced entry. Someone he knew came in. There was a fight of some kind. And Doyle went down.

Cassidy looked around the room. “No one in this room killed Doyle. Pandora had been staying away because she’s been feeling sick and figured it was from him.” We all looked around at each other. Serkis still hadn’t shown up. Cassidy was building tension; he purposely said this now.

Doyle was beaten with some sort of blunt object until he passed out. And then he was tortured, slowly, for hours, using various methods and techniques. He died sometime late in the evening, after surviving a number of cuts, gunshots, burns and toxins. Officer Bishop produced the perfect cover story. It was an open and shut case. Plain and simple.

“Then who killed Doyle?”

Cassidy merely smiled.

* * *

            How I got recruited for this little side trip, I’ll never know. All I know was that I was sent to pick up a traveler. I had my license, I’d had it awhile, purely as a “just in case”. It’s always good to have options. A back up plan; it’s necessary in this game.

I took a car that the family found for me. From where, I didn’t ask. I didn’t really want to know. They had their methods. I drove the limit the whole way, watching carefully for my turn. I almost missed it, whipping the car around into the opening. I pulled in and parked abruptly, suddenly eager to get out of the suffocating interior. I got out and paced wildly.

There was a desolate feeling here; memories of long lost farewells and victorious welcomes. The sign was red and white, faded from wear and weathered. Time had taken its toll, kids had grown old in this desolate place.

I pulled a deep breath into my lungs, feeling oil and gasoline. The loud grumble of engines unnerved me as I stared at the vacant metal beast sitting resolved before me. Maybe I’m just insane, but sometimes the simple things got to me. I checked my watch.

His bus came in at 8:23; he should be inside, waiting. I wrapped my arms around myself to guard from the cold, realizing too late that it was on the inside. I pulled the door open, sliding into the empty station. The place was quaint, small and blank. My entrance raised no attention; I faded into the ugly green walls. Walls the color of medical uniforms. Or patients. The color of my madness.

I sat down to rest my feet, my elbows on my knees, my head hanging. I was tired from the drive. I was in outer west nowhere. Alone. The worker ignored me. There was a lurking figure outside, dressed almost uniform to myself. My idle mind wandered to Requiem.

The door opened and shut again, slow, shuffling steps that stopped as soon as the door clicked closed. I looked up, by force of habit, as a reflex. Vagrant Ransom sat down with me.

“Hey kid, I haven’t seen you in ages. How you been?”

I wanted to scream. A sting of pain burned where Doyle shot me. I wanted to grab him and rant like a fiend, tell him all that he’d missed, what we’d gone through without him. I wanted to cry and be held, be lied to – whatever it took to kill this misery of mine. Vagrant was a regular at the bar, but he came and went often. I heard stories upon stories about thing he’d done. Things he’d gotten away with. But I smiled, as much as it hurt to.

“Just fine,” I muttered. I went to get up when he put a hand on my shoulder.

“Are you okay, I mean, really?”

“Why do you care?”

He let go and I got up. He looked at me for a moment.

“Because you’re young. You’re still…you don’t belong here. You never did.”

“Oh, and suddenly you know my entire life story? You think you know me?”

He got up to be level with me, but he was bigger. “You’d be surprised what you could learn from simple observation. My family members were masters of the art.”

“And look where the rest of them are,” I sneered. I saw his body flinch and he pulled back for a swing, but he stopped himself and led me out. The figure outside was hanging around, smoking idly. Vagrant shot them a look and they took off. He led me to the car, opening the passenger door for me. I’d stepped over the line. And I knew it. And I was still alive.

He started the car and pulled out. After the ride with Grey, I was sketchy. But I sat still and stayed quiet. I didn’t know what to say.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

He glanced over, shifting his eyes from the fixed point on the road that he never faltered from. “No you’re not. You wouldn’t have said it if you were. And you know it.”

And we drove in silence a little while longer.

“I don’t understand. You left to go after Draven…..Pandora’s father. Mr. Riddle. Um, so is he…dead?”

Vagrant smiled. “Gramps? What do you think?”

Silence again.

“Why are you coming back?”

He shrugged. “It seems you kids are in a bit of a spot and need someone to hold the reins long enough for everything to get sorted out. Hence, I got called back.”

“Called?”

He shrugged again. “It’ll come together in time.”

“Why didn’t you catch a bus into town, why all this?”

He smiled blindly to the road, without giving me a glance, though I could tell what kind of look was on his face. “Surprise, kid. It’s the element of surprise. We don’t want them to see me coming. The last standing Ransom is back in town. The last Merrick just fell. Ironic.”

“I don’t see how.”

He laughed. “No, you wouldn’t, would you?” And we drove the rest of the way in silence. For the record, I’d picked him up in New Paltz, which is a nice little suburbia north of the city. A good two hours north even though it’d taken me three. He took him an hour and a half to get back. Don’t ask me. Reasons like these are why I failed math.

We pulled into town and he dropped me off at work. I was off today. I wandered idly to the back and passed out where I could, curled up in my own corner, safe from persecution. I was just beginning to doze off when Pandora came over and tapped my shoulder. I freaked out and rolled over with a start. She held her hand out to me to help me up, and when I couldn’t stand properly, she held me up. She had me locked by my shoulders.

“Listen to me. Go upstairs. Go to sleep. Now. Do you think you can manage that on your own, or should I help you?”

I nodded at her weakly, trying to argue, trying to tell her that I didn’t need sleep. I couldn’t understand why I was so tired. I was just suddenly…overcome with fatigue. I couldn’t function or focus. I moved away from her, staggering haphazardly. She watched me edge off, going back to work only when she was sure I would manage. She said she’d send someone up to check on me if she couldn’t make it herself. I nodded to that too. I nodded to just about everything she’d said to me, but I had no clue what it was. Ask me tomorrow and you’ll be lucky if I can tell you that today ever happened. If it did. That’s what happens when you have waking dreams of desolate reality. 

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