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Authors: Margaret Millmore

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BOOK: What Haunts Me
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Chapter 19

In San Francisco, we had various districts, or neighborhoods. One of these, the Tenderloin, had long held a reputation as a den of iniquity; homelessness, crime, drugs, prostitution, and every other squalid and unsavory condition one could think of. It simply was not a pleasant place to be, but it was a great place to find and kill ghosts. The conditions were ripe for the picking, and for reasons I suspected, but hadn't confirmed, the more vicious the environment, the more demons I found to kill. The borders were a bit blurry, but in general, there was Nob Hill to the north, Union Square to the east, Civic Center on the west, and finally Market Street attempting to contain it from the south.

Deciding that the Tenderloin was the perfect place to burn off my mental disarray, I first called a taxi, and then changed into tattered jeans, a worn out ball cap, and an old jacket that should have been tossed a decade ago. Feeling like I was properly attired for a night in the armpit of the city, I went downstairs and waited at the curb for my cab, which arrived rather quickly, but not before I had that strange feeling of being watched. I looked around, expecting to see a late night dog walker or someone stumbling home from a night out. But I saw no one and quickly decided it was all in my imagination. As the cab neared the end of the street I noticed someone standing on the corner. He was dressed all in black and staring directly at us as we passed. Perhaps, if my mind wasn't so preoccupied, I would have paid more attention to him, which might have saved me a great deal of grief later that night.

I wanted to be at the heart of it all and asked the driver to drop me at Jones and O'Farrell. It was almost midnight and in most parts of the city the streets would be deserted, the residents snugly tucked into bed and snoring softly. Not there though…the shadier side was in full swing, and the second I alighted from my cab I was propositioned by more than one lady of the night, and at least two unsavory characters wanting to assist me with a drug habit I didn't have. I moved on, keeping the brim of my hat low and walking with as much macho confidence as I could muster.

My first ghost was easy to spot and I jabbed him as I passed by. He was hovering over a man who was slumped in the boarded up doorway of a vacant shop. I couldn't tell what ailed the poor fella, and didn't actually care. When I went there I did so knowing that I may not be saving a worthy human being, and since the place was chock-full of almost every form of human suffering, it was hard to tell who the demons were haunting. So, armed with my trusty number two, I just killed the ghosts as I come upon them, and tonight there were plenty to choose from.

After a while and the demise of quite a few ghosts, I headed north to Geary Street. I came across a rather nasty ghost, whose attentions were directed at a young girl, probably no older than fourteen or fifteen. She was scantily clad in the common style of a prostitute and shaking visibly; however, I doubted it was due to the chilly night air. There was no question that she was high; her eyes were glassy and distant, her lips were quivering in indistinguishable utterances, and a thin line of drool trailed down her chin. The ghost, in all his glory, was nicely decked out in a frock coat, silk vest, and matching cravat, his bowler hat tilted slightly to one side.

Another man was there as well. He too looked drug addled and was saying something to the girl. As I got closer, I could hear his words. “You stupid slut, let me do that; you'll use it all. Leave me some.” He made a grab for the syringe the girl was trying to stab in her arm, and the ghost held his hand up, using some invisible force to push the addict away. He then used the same force to guide the girl's hand with the syringe to the throbbing vein in the crook of her arm.

I was simultaneously fascinated and disgusted, and almost forgot what it was I needed to do. The ghost's back was to me, allowing me the element of surprise as I approached with my trusty yellow friend leading the way. I was only inches from turning him into a grey mist when he suddenly swung around with his ghostly fist headed in my direction. I ducked. Ghosts weren't solid and I shouldn't have been worried about actual impact, but it was instinctual, and in retrospect I was glad I did. If he could control her, who was to say he couldn't have hurt me too? Still in a lowered position, I rushed forward, jabbing my adversary and plowing into the girl at the same time. She dropped the syringe and I crushed it under my shoe, causing both her and her companion to screech loudly. I ran like hell, and didn't stop until I was sure they weren't following.

I slowed down a block from Union Square and almost fell to my knees trying to catch my breath and understand what had just transpired. Never before had a ghost tried to physically interact with me. Sure, some had acknowledged their impending death at the tip of my pencil, but none had tried to interfere. Of course, I'd never seen one the demons trying to hasten the demise of their victim either. Billy had said that some of them were more powerful than others—I just wished she'd mentioned the part about them being a potential danger to yours truly.

It was time to go home, that much I knew for sure. I headed toward the square and its many hotels and taxi stands. I walked quickly, but not so fast that I brought attention to myself. After all it was late at night, and I didn't want to appear as if I was up to no good, which of course I was. My thoughts were in turmoil, though, and suddenly a dam in my subconscious burst and something became abundantly clear…I loved killing ghosts! And honestly, why shouldn't I like killing them? These were some bad dudes. I could easily rationalize that the ghosts I killed were really bad in life, and as a result neither Heaven nor Hell wanted them in death. Thus, they became evil ghouls, and it was my moral obligation to take them out.

Feeling as if I'd just had a phenomenal revelation that brought all of this ghost business into perspective, my step lightened and I relaxed a bit, which turned out bad for me. I should have been more aware of my surroundings. Had I been, I might have checked the dark alley to my left before crossing its mouth to complete the final half block to my destination. I didn't though, which netted me a knockdown punch to the head that sent me spiraling into blackness.

Chapter 20

I woke up to the hushed sounds of someone talking, a man I thought. But who was it, and what was he doing in my apartment? Naturally my first thought was that I had a burglar in my midst and I needed to do something. I kept a baseball bat under my bed; not that my building had ever been infiltrated by such degenerates, but a midnight break-in at my first apartment in the city had put the habit in place and I'd lived by it ever since. I sat up quickly and two things happened simultaneously; violent, simultaneous bursts of what felt like shrapnel-filled lightning thundered through my head, which then caused an immediate wave of nausea so powerful that my only recourse was to hang my head over the side of the bed and let it fly. I couldn't be sure if the intruder heard my gastronomical explosion because I passed out the minute the last of it left my system.

A few minutes later—or maybe even hours for all I knew—I woke again. This time I didn't try to sit up or open my eyes; instead, I just lay still and listened. There were two voices now, louder than before and clearly agitated. I thought I recognized one of them, but the pounding in my head was so intense I couldn't be sure.

Ever so slowly I opened my eyes. There was no light in my immediate vicinity, but I could see the glow of a lamp through a frosted glass wall, which I didn't have in my apartment, making me realize that I was not at home and I had no idea where I was. Without moving my head—because I was sure that would have caused another onslaught of pain—I looked around the room. Although the light was dim, I could see that the furnishings bore a strong resemblance to standard hotel issue décor. I also realized that someone was hitting my left temple with a mallet. With a cautious hand, I felt around and discovered that there was no mallet wielding perpetrator, but a baseball with some sort of bandage on top of it was firmly lodged onto my skull. And it hurt like hell to touch that baseball, sending another lightning strike through my noggin.

Timidly I turned my head. If I was in a hotel room, there must be a phone nearby. I needed to call the police, and perhaps an ambulance. Focusing was turning out to be quite difficult, but I could make out the shape of a bedside table that held a lamp and what I thought was a phone cord, but no phone…it also held a glass and a medicine bottle of some sort. God and I didn't talk much so I wasn't sure if the prayer I began to utter would get to Him, but I was praying that was a bottle of aspirin, and much to my delight, it was. Taking it slowly, I reached for it, shook out a handful of tablets, and popped three into my mouth. I wanted to dry swallow them, but the roughness left from vomiting wasn't going to allow that. I reached for the glass and spilled most of it, but got enough down to do the trick. I laid back and started praying again that it would kick in soon.

My concept of time was completely off, especially since I couldn't be sure if I was drifting in and out of consciousness. I thought perhaps it had only been a few short minutes, because the voices I heard earlier were still talking and the conversation seemed to be of the same tone as before. Now that those glorious over the counter painkillers had done their job, at least for the most part, I could understand what was being said, and more importantly, who was saying it.

“How long has he been out?” an icy voice demanded. I imagined those green eyes glowing with anger and briefly felt sorry for the other person, until of course I remembered that one or both of them were probably responsible for my current condition.

“A couple of hours. He woke up at some point and puked everywhere, so he's not dead if that's what you're worried about.” This came from a male voice that I didn't recognize.

“Why did you hit him the first place? You probably gave him a concussion, and that's why he threw up, you idiot!” Was that concern I heard in Billy's voice? I really hoped it was, because if she was concerned then maybe I was going to survive this situation.

“I was told he was dangerous. That he needed to be brought in using caution. And you know what, after what I saw tonight, I wasn't taking any chances.”

Billy's lithe form appeared like a shadow on the other side of the frosted partition. As she swung around to face her companion her ebony hair swung too. “What the hell do you mean you were told he was dangerous? By whom?” she seethed. I imagined fire spewing from her mouth. I didn't know who this guy was, but I thought it was his life that was in danger now.

He stammered for a moment, then said, “Vokkel, okay? It was Vokkel! He…he put up a reward—”

“You idiot! I can't even begin to understand you, Caleb! You knew I was in town, why didn't you call me first?”

If this guy was scared of her, his voice no longer reflected it; he sounded firm and in control. “To be honest Billy, I wasn't going to call you at all! In fact, if his damn phone hadn't started ringing, and your current number hadn't been on the caller ID, I would have turned him over to Vokkel without a word to you.” She started to say something, but he overrode her. “So consider it professional courtesy. Now tell me why you were calling him. Did Vokkel offer you the reward too?”

Why was Vokkel so damned anxious to get his hands on me? More importantly, why wasn't Billy denying any involvement in this current mess? I needed to get up and get out of there and fast, but I didn't think that was going to be possible. I tried to sit up slowly, hoping they'd stay out there and argue until I was steady on my feet.

Finally Billy spoke, and her voice had taken on an eerie calm. “He's a friend of mine, the one I told you about, and he's not dangerous. Hell, he's not even sure what he is yet. And damn-it Caleb, you know me better than that…I don't go near Vokkel and I sure as hell don't take his money!” There was something in the way she said “money,” like there was a history between Billy and this unknown man.

He grunted. “Cut out the righteous indignation, Billy. We don't all have a trust fund to fall back on, and right now Vokkel is the only one offering up payment for services.”

“You know perfectly well where that will get you, or do I need to remind you?” She asked cynically. I didn't know what that meant, but I thought it verified my theory about history between them. “You said you saw him do something, what was it?” She growled.

“He took a cab from his house to the Tenderloin…I followed him. I think he got five, maybe six ghosts in like an hour, and maybe ten more after that. Have you ever seen that many ghosts in that short a time?” He didn't wait for an answer. “The last one was nasty too. It knew what he was and it tried to stop him. That dude,” I saw a shadowy arm point toward the partition, “moved fast, really fast, and vanquished him. You ever see anyone get away from a ghost that powerful?”

My head still hurt pretty damn bad, which was making it a little hard to comprehend things, but I could have sworn the jerk in the next room had just said I did something amazing. Wasn't seeing and killing ghosts amazing enough for one guy? I thought it was, but then I also thought if what he said was true, maybe Phil was onto something about me that I wasn't privy to.

I started to get up again. First I sat on the edge of the bed, which wasn't too bad. But when I tried standing, my head began to swim and my stomach to toss, so I sat back down again. After a few minutes I tried again, this time gaining my feet and taking a few steps before realizing that I had nowhere to go. I only had one option…to go out there and confront my attacker, and hope that Billy was there to get me out of here, because I didn't think I could do it on my own.

As I slowly approached the partition, I heard Billy ask, “What does Vokkel want with him, did he tell you that?”

“No, but I think you know, don't you Billy?” Caleb's tone was so accusatory that I actually believed that she
must
have known what Vokkel wanted with me.

I reached the partition and leaned against it. I was facing a sitting room with a couch, side chair, coffee table, and small kitchenette. Billy was standing closest to me with her back turned, and Caleb was facing me, his eyes registering me a second before I spoke. “That's a good question; why does Vokkel want me so bad?” My eyes were darting between Billy's back and Caleb. He was a big guy, bigger than me by a few inches and much broader. He probably outweighed me by thirty or forty pounds too—at least that explained the power of his punch.

Billy swung around and faced me, her eyes softening just a bit when she saw my face. She turned back to Caleb and made a growling noise so threatening that it scared me, and I was glad it was directed at him. He flinched ever so slightly, but it gave me hope that she was indeed on my side. I couldn't stay standing much longer, so I inched my way to the couch, and once I was seated I said, “So, how about some water, and then you two can tell me what the hell is going on?” I tried to sound angry and forceful, but my throat was sore and my voice came out raspy and unimpressive.

Caleb moved to the kitchenette, took a bottle of water from the mini-fridge, and brought it over to me. Billy went into the bedroom area and returned with a hand towel that she proceeded to fill with ice, then she handed me the make-shift icepack and sat in the side chair. “How's the head?”

“How's it look?”

“Pretty painful,” she replied, and glanced at Caleb, her eyes narrowing into those green daggers I was all too familiar with. Based on his reaction, he'd been on the receiving end a time or two as well.

“Why's he after me Billy? And why is he sending thugs to knock me out and kidnap me? By the way, Edgar broke into the building tonight and tried to get me to go with him.” The short burst of speech left me breathless, and I leaned back against the couch and closed my eyes.

When I opened them again, Billy was looking at me, a hint of concern in her expression. “You okay? You sort of blanked out there for a minute.”

“No, I'm not, but answer my questions anyway.”

“Not here.” Her eyes darted toward Caleb. “I need to get you home first and then we can talk.”

“Fine.” I looked up at Caleb and said, “What's he offering for me, anyway?”

Billy asked, “Does it matter?”

“Hell yes, it matters. I'd like to know what I'm worth to this guy.”

Caleb shrugged, and said, “Ten thousand.” He glanced at Billy and she scowled again. “Hey, a guy's gotta eat, and that's a lot of meals.”

Billy got up and went to the phone on the kitchenette counter and pressed one button. When someone answered she gave them her name and said she'd be right down for her car. I assumed it must have been the parking valet number.

“Can you walk?” she asked. I nodded slightly and she began to gather up my wallet, keys, cell phone, and of course my favorite yellow friend from the coffee table. I hadn't even noticed those things were missing from my pockets, let alone sitting right in front of me.

I stood slowly and walked to Billy's side. I was still holding the towel full of ice, and I mustered up all my strength and threw it at Caleb, hitting him squarely in the face. I didn't think I caused nearly the damage to him that he'd caused to me, but it felt good anyway. Billy smirked and we left the room. Once we were in the hallway I grabbed onto her shoulder for support, and she put her arm around my waist and guided me to the elevator, through the lobby, and to a waiting Mustang GT that was idling under the hotel portico.

BOOK: What Haunts Me
2.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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