Chapter 32-We Did the Demon Dance and Rushed to Nevermore

Monday, June 8

7:15am

Gai

One of his earliest memories involves the stove. Mom, he's sure, warned him a thousand times. "Hot", she said. "Ouch." She even let him test the limits of a candle, under her guidance, so he'd understand. Still, during a brief moment of inattention, Gai stuck his finger in the blue flame when the kettle was on.

The same compulsion stirs inside him now,. Throughout Saturday with Grandpa, and Sunday when Mom holed up in her office after he told her his plans to hang out with Steph, Gai couldn't stop thinking about the file. The photographs. Autopsy. The word kept turning over in his mind, a morbid whisper that worked itself into even the quietest spaces.

Leave, he wills Mom silently. He has such a small window between when she goes to work and Connie shows up to clean.. Leave, he thinks again, as she passes through the living room and goes back in her bedroom.

"Gai, have you seen my phone?"

"In the kitchen."

"Right, thanks." She stops and reaches over the back of the couch to tap his knee, bare in the cotton shorts he slept in. "Paw Patrol? Aren't you a little old for that?"

"Nothing else on." He punches up a channel, embarrassed he didn't notice he was watching a baby cartoon. Phineas and Ferb on the next station is passable, so he leaves it there.

"Better. I was worrying about you, kid."

When she finally sits in the chair to put on her ankle boots, he notices the jeans, striped t-shirt, and cotton blazer she's wearing. "Field day?"

"Yep. If you need me, call my cell, not the office, okay?"

"Sure." Anything, as long as she leaves.

"Did you pick up your room, so Connie can vacuum?."

"Yeah."

"Okay. Text me when you're at Mike's."

He keeps himself from rolling his eyes, but barely. Gai doesn't have to ask to know Mom's got Lydia texting her, too. "Yeah."

"I'll bring stuff home for tacos. Invite whoever you want, okay?"

"Uh, huh."

LEAVE, he practically screams in his head.

After kissing the top of his head, Mom grabs her things and goes out the door, locking the deadbolt on her way. It takes everything Gai has to wait until she's driven away before he runs to his room and unearths the lock pick set from under his mattress.

The wall clock shows 8:02, and Connie comes at 9:00. After that, he's stuck at Mike's for the rest of the day. The pressure of time makes his hands clumsy, and it takes Gai three tries and ten minutes to get the desk drawer open again. Just like last time, the file nestles inside, ready to show its secrets.

Does he imagine it, that the file is heavier now than before? It looks the same size, the same thickness. A runner of sweat tickles its way down his back, though the house is cool, and his gut roils with anticipation and dread.

Days of thinking have prepared him for anything, he's sure. Decomposed corpses? Murdered kids? Women sliced and diced? Though they've never given him details, it's easy to figure out Mom handles some pretty gnarly cases. Anything's possible, but he has to know what she's working on.

Taking a deep breath, he flips the file open and lifts the 'photos' tab, skipping all the notes.

The first few aren't interesting. Outside, pavement. Blood and yellow number cards. Shots taken from every angle of an alley.

A very familiar alley.

Stop.

It's enough, just knowing—he doesn't have to look at anything else. Why then, ohshitnostopdonotdothis, why is his hand lifting the AUTOPSY tab?

A picture of a thigh, the gunshot wound a gaping hole with a spatter of spots around it. He turns the page and finds a closeup of the hole, edges blackened and the spot pattern clearer. The next three are also close ups of the leg, from different angles and also showing the exit wound.

The last is a full body shot of Dad, taken from above, naked. Gai's stomach rolls, telling him to close the file, but he can't anymore than he can look away. He notices things, small unimportant details that will return to him in dreams for years to come. But now, in this moment, all Gai can see are Dad's eyes, open and dilated, cloudy and unseeing. Gai's stomach rolls again and he books it for the bathroom, barely reaching the toilet before his breakfast splashes into the water below him.

His eyes his eyes oh my god his eyes no why no dad please please no please PLEASE!

Tears burn, matching the singe of stomach acid in his throat. It won't leave. A sob gets stuck in his chest and lays there, expanding until Gai's lungs cut off and he can't breathe.

Finally he gasps, and it all comes out, in great, rasping mouthfuls; every bit of fear and fury he'd fought down over these past months. Ever since Mom first came to him and said, "It's about Dad. He did his job."

Drawn by his crying, Keller comes in and sniffs his cheek, licking away the tears. Her fur is so warm under his hands, her rough, scarred face rubbing against his cheek soothing, somehow. A physical touchstone to contrast everything swirling inside him. Gai grabs onto her mane and buries his head in her shoulder.

This was Dad's job. To chase after a thief who stole, like, a thousand bucks, and wind up dead. Lying gray on a cold table was his life's work. To let that itty, bitty hole in his leg leach him of everything so Gai had to grow up without a dad.

And what's with Mom? Because, sure as shit, the FBI doesn't care about the robbery, or some low-level police detective getting shot. So why does Mom have the file?

She said it was over. That night at Grandma and Grandpa's, when she talked to him about letting go of hate and moving on, it was all a big fat lie.

Mom hasn't been working a new case. Mom's looking into Dad's murder. She's going after the person who killed Dad. Which only makes sense if she doesn't think Jennifer Weston killed him, or thinks she had help.

And if anyone can find Dad's killer, it's Mom.

Fear, worse than any Gai's ever known, sluices through his veins and turns them cold. Everything inside him shuts down. So different from usual when his thoughts swirl and overlap, filling his head with words and noise. Now all he's left with is a deafening quiet.

This time his hands don't shake. Gai manipulates the lock until it engages and stashes the tools in his room. By the time Connie shows up to clean, he's dressed and headed out the door to Cam's.


8:15am

Veronica

She knows better than to hope Matthew is there, and finds the motel room exactly as she left it. After days of driving to L.A., searching for both the mysterious Danny, and for Matthew, Veronica wants to work. Even more, she wants to lie on the bed and close her eyes for just ten precious minutes.

It's only eight-thirty, but she's been up for hours. Her dream is only a vague memory involving hands and the sensation of beard stubble against her inner thigh. Even a hard run didn't ebb the hangover of unsatisfied lust, and by now she's exhausted with it.

Giving in to the bed's invitation, she flops onto her back and throws an arm over her eyes. She's gotten used to the dreams with Sam but couldn't swear to her partner last night. It was an anonymous exchange of need, raw and hungry. For months she's been wrapped in a cocoon of sorrow and does not know what to do with this renewed sexual appetite making itself known through her subconscious.

And when I'm with Logan.

She can't ignore that truth. First on the ship, then in his bathroom. Even the other night, after the move, she couldn't get through one conversation without baiting and flirting. Last night, over subs, she was better behaved, but then the dream. That fucking dream.

It's simple, she rationalizes. Logan was there in the early days of her being a P.I.. The heady, early rush of working cases is tied up with the, albeit different, heady rush of sexual discovery and first love. It's no wonder his presence while she secretly works Sam's case would pull her back to that same physical state.

Add to that, she's spent the months since Sam's death in a holding pattern, waiting for Weston's trial. She's now more awake and alive than she's been since that godawful fucking day when Harold, Sam's partner, called her after Sam got shot. And if her mind is alive, of course her body is, too.

The dream comes back to her in small pieces. Hands, both holding her and finding their way inside. A mouth against hers, the tongue slick as silk but also rough, demanding. A bite inside her knee, encouraging her legs to open, the brush of beard stubble against her inner thigh, where it's most tender. A powerful grip on her hips, dragging her closer to—

Her phone rattles against the wooden nightstand, bringing her out of her reverie. Veronica breathes deep to calm her racing heart before checking the caller ID. "Hey, Lyd. What's up?"

"I just wanted to check in. Did Gai tell you he was going to Cam's instead of coming here today?"

"No." Veronica shakes her head to clear the dream and check her memory. "That wasn't the plan."

"Oh. Well, what do you want me to do?"

Veronica sits up, bringing herself back to the here and now. "I'll call you back."

Gai's phone rolls to voicemail once, twice, three times. Each ring raises her ire a fraction until she's thoroughly pissed when he finally picks up on the fourth round. "Yeah?"

"Want to explain why you're not at Mike's?"

"Because I'm at Cam's."

Maybe it's reception, but his voice has an unfamiliar flatness to it. "Don't say Cam when you mean Steph. You went to see Steph, but you're supposed to be at Mike's."

"Steph's not even here. You said I could go anywhere as long as I let you guys know. Lydia knows."

"No, I said you could go around the neighborhood if you asked. You didn't ask."

"Oh. Sorry. Can I go hang out with Cam."

There's no question in the question, and it irritates her further. "Go to Mike's. Now. Text me when you get there."

"Fine."

"Now."

"I said fine."

He hangs up on her without a goodbye, but also without a note of anger. While Gai's a good kid who occasionally likes to push boundaries, when she pushes back he's apologetic or resistant. She's not sure yet if this drama-free capitulation is a good thing.

Once Gai and Lydia both text he's made it to her place, her mind turns to tomorrow night and her dinner plans with Logan. Before she can overthink it, Veronica sends a text to cancel, citing a need to work, then turns her attention to the day ahead.


11:30am

Logan

It's a small thing to clean a house. Even one as large as this. He hadn't meant to, had even considered calling in a professional crew, but he did the bedroom and master bath just to make the place livable. That done, the rest of the place felt even more disgusting so he kept going.

Logan expected the work, and the act of claiming the house as his own, to have him flying high. The opposite happens; reality settles in further—this is his home. Just him to rattle around in two thousand square feet of real estate.

Dark tentacles of depression pull at him. There's no food in the house but, despite the rumble in his stomach, it's too much trouble to acquire some. He crashed a hard eight last night but feels like he could easily sleep. Loneliness fills his gut but the effort of reaching out and fear of rejection, if only because all his friends have full lives, makes it seem the most attractive option.

Thankfully, the doorbell not only works but is an elegant collection of chimes that echoes through the empty rooms, and brings possibility with it. Logan finds Kimberly Robison, real estate agent extraordinaire, on his doorstep.

She's as perfectly made up as the last time he saw her, in a white skirt and jacket with a magenta blouse underneath, her perfectly manicured hands holding a large, cellophane-enclosed basket and gift-wrapped box.

"Kimberly, hey." Logan takes the basket and steps back to let her in. "What brings you around?"

"Housewarming gift. How're you settling in?"

"Good. Got the place cleared out."

"I see that." She walks ahead of him, toward the kitchen, peeking into the living and dining rooms on her way. "You work fast."

"I had help." Logan puts the basket on the counter. "Do you want anything to drink? I have water or water. Your choice."

Kim smiles and pushes the wrapped gift toward him. "For houses in this range I usually spring for a magnum of Dom, but you mentioned you were sober so… congratulations on your new home!"

She's given him an iced tea maker. Inside the basket Logan finds seven flavors of tea, a variety of fruits, nuts, cheeses, and crackers, a set of Henkel knives and a cutting board, and, at the back, a slim leather folder.

After showing him how to set up the machine and get the tea started, Kimberly pulls the folder out of the back of the basket. "You're going to need a lot of help to get this place in shape. I used to get ten calls a day from past clients asking me for recommendations, so here they are in advance."

Nestled in the folder are business cards for contractors, plumbers, handypersons, roofers, flooring companies, appliance repair people, masoners, interior designers, pest control, and everything else from gardeners to landscape architects.

Logan lifts an eyebrow. "You really don't want to hear from me again, do you?"

"Well," she twirls her wedding ring around her finger, like she did the first day they met. Her smile teases. "You can call me again when you're ready to flip this place."

He pulls a pack of papers out of the folder. "Recipes? I'm not much of a cook."

"I guessed that," she says, "during our house hunt. But I did this for my son when he went to college. If an eighteen-year-old can figure it out, a grown-ass man should be able to."

"Thanks a lot."

Kimberly picks up her purse. She pats him lightly on the shoulder as she heads to the door. "Hey, Logan?"

"Yeah?"

"Good luck."

Once she's gone, Logan puts the pitcher of tea in the fridge to cool and breaks open the nuts. The small bit of food buoys his appetite and his mood. They had a cook on the boat, and by the time Eva transitioned from housekeeper to significant other, it was their habit that she made all their meals.

While a diet of takeout won't break the bank, it also won't do much for his waistline. Neither will a daily fare of microwave meals and tv dinners. How the hell did he get to thirty-two years old without knowing how to feed himself?

Logan flips through the recipes, seeing they're more instructions of how to combine Trader Joe's items into a cohesive meal. Little cooking or prep is involved, which makes him chuckle. Kimberly's right, he should be able to figure this much out, at least. Nuts in hand, he walks the house.

He's got plans, lots of them. Everything from re-plastering to knocking out the kitchen wall to add a solarium—an idea that wouldn't leave him once it came. Thanks to Eva and all the work they did on their beach shack, he even has a little know-how.

The question is, does he go a room at a time, or a project at a time? Or start outside, knocking out the yard this summer and save the interior for the fall?

Either way, he'll need tools. Lots of tools. Curiosity on what he currently has leads him to the garage. When Veronica broke into it the other night, they didn't poke around. The place was dark, dusty, and none of the lights worked.

The door creaks on its hinges. Taking up most of the space is the covered shape of a large, square-built pickup. Remembering he's supposed to call the junkyard to haul it away, Logan pulls off the cover, so he can at least give them the make and model. Under is a king-cab gas hog that was all but extinct in Southern California back when Logan first got his license.

Part of the decal on the side is missing, but the F250 remains. He peeks in the window and sees relics of a bygone era: bench seats, crank windows, and manual locks. Probably gets around nine miles to the gallon. But...

It's yellow. A faded, pale yellow, with various dents and rust spots, but yellow all the same. And built for work.

A mental image of loading lumber, tiles, and paint cans into the back of his brand-new Maserati SUV makes him scrunch up his nose. Like the sand from surfing isn't bad enough.

The tires have decent tread, and none are flat. A ring of keys hangs on the wall next to the door. Logan picks them up and twirls the ring around his finger. Trying them, he finds the one with the rounded head fits the door, leaving the square-headed key for the engine.

The previous owner hasn't been dead two months. Pulling himself into the truck and plopping down into the ass-shaped dent already there, he eyes the five-wheel odometer, wondering at the 27,012 miles reflected there. A small Chevron sticker in the upper corner of the windshield answers the question, putting the miles at 226,960 when the oil was last changed three months ago.

After a tap at the remote attached to the sun visor, the garage door rattles up on its tracks. Logan slips the key in the ignition and turns it, prepared for the click of a dead battery. Instead, he's rewarded with the roar of a dragon startled awake.

White smoke plumes behind him, reinforcing the image. The smoke clears, however, and the roar settles into a steady purr—a beast happy for attention. Logan grins and presses down on the gas to spur the roar, a childhood fantasy come to life in his hands.

It was impossible to grow up around Aaron and Lynn Echolls without being exposed to every decade of cinema. While his mom preferred Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, his dad emulated the celluloid tough guys and heroes from the 70s.

Cruising sunny San Diego in the pickup, classic rock blaring out the speakers, and the open windows his only source of air conditioning, feels like a throwback to those movies. Logan can imagine he's Sunny Hooper, Vince Majestyk, or JJ McQuade, and his inner seven-year-old sits beside him, bouncing with glee.

All that's missing is a cool drink between his thighs. Flipping a turn into the nearest bodega, Logan parks and, while climbing out, glimpses himself in the huge side mirror.

Once upon a time he wouldn't have dared leave the house without every hair carefully tousled into place. Then came the years of disguising himself behind an overgrown mane that bordered on pathological. Today he's an unkempt medium between the two—hair short but disheveled, stubble in keeping with current fashion. His intentionally frayed t-shirt and jeans are pricey and new, now dirty from all the cleaning he did. Logan attempts a finger-combing, with no luck, and gives it up immediately.

Just then, a leggy redhead in her late twenties leaves the store. Her eyes rake him from head to toe, then back up before giving him a slow smile. Logan meets her eyes and gives her a bob of the eyebrows, letting her know he appreciates the compliment, and returns it.

It's a small, passing moment as she opens her car door and slides in, throwing one last grin his way. Through the open window he can barely hear her say, "Hot dad, three o'clock," and her friend in the passenger seat glances over a second later. One meows to the other as they back up and drive off, laughing.

Hot dad. While the comment should depress him, in his current mood a deep chuckle settles in his chest.

Like many, the bodega is ample-sized but overstocked, the aisles narrow and rife with the smell of incense. Logan makes his way to a rack of sunglasses at the back, and tries on a dozen before he settles on a pair of five-dollar aviators. He grabs a Dr. Pepper and heads to the checkout line, putting his stuff on the belt behind an old man's three cans of soup and skein of saltines. When the man lines his change up on the counter with shaking hands, Logan glances around for distraction, purposely avoiding the tabloids on display.

One check stand over, a gaggle of tween girls wait their turn. The girls behave exactly as he remembers from his own middle-school days—their lip-glossed smiles and the way they stand so close, like a pack of penguins, all talking over one another and laughing at things incomprehensible to outsiders. For a second he sees Veronica and Lilly at that age, their closed society that was as good at bringing people in as it was at shutting them out.

One is a poor-man's reminder of Lilly. It's obvious, the effort she's put in to be ahead of the other girls, with her shimmery eye makeup that's already wearing off and the small purse draped from her shoulder. Where the other girls are in flip-flops and shorts, she's wearing low-heeled sandals and a floral romper. Tomorrow, he's sure, when they've copied her, she'll have already moved on.

As the girls pay individually for their lollipops and licorice, the man in front of Logan is piling pennies on the counter. The checker catches Logan's eye and shrugs, a 'what can you do' helplessness in the gesture.

He's about to shrug back, because he's in no hurry, and freezes when he sees Gai walking toward the girls' checkout lane. The kid wears a plain gray t-shirt and black chinos with his ratty Vans, the usual cardigan missing today. His oversized friend Mike and some scrawny looking kid are with him, both in shorts and t-shirts.

Before they can notice him, Logan ducks his head. The tabloids in front of his face scream their usual offenses about celebrity affairs, elderly stars' last words, and which Hollywood A-lister is headed for divorce.

He watches through the racks as Mike puts a box of Eskimo pies on the conveyor belt. Gai dumps all the money from his pocket by the pies and stands by looking disinterested while Mike and the other kid count it out. One of the girls, the one that reminded him of Lilly, turns around.

"Gai, oh my god, hi."

Every look of anger or defensiveness Gai had given Logan up to this point is nothing. Not, anyway, compared to the contempt he shows when he recognizes the girl talking to him. His lip literally goes up in a sneer. "Angie."

"Yeah, hey, what are you doing?"

A baleful glare is Gai's only answer.

"I mean, like, we're going over to Meredith's. She has a pool. Do you want to come over?" One of the other girls leans over and whispers something in Angie's ear. "I mean, you all can."

Two of the other girls stand to the side, talking and giggling while the last girl, who whispered at Angie, pays for her things. The man in front of Logan has finally sorted out his change and is counting it out for the cashier.

"Yeah?" Gai shoves the Eskimo pies along, stepping forward so Angie has to move backward. "Can Fish come, too?"

"Um," Angie falters, finally catching on that something is off. "I mean, we'd have to ask Meredith's mom—,"

"It's hard to swim with a paper bag on her head, though. Can you handle that?"

The girl's mouth drops open and her cheeks color. "How did you—,"

"Fish heard you. She told me."

Finally, it's Logan's turn. He holds out a twenty, so busy watching the drama a check stand away he doesn't even notice the total.

"Gai," Angie swallows, trying to cover up her nervousness with a laugh. "It didn't mean anything."

"Then me ignoring you won't, either." Gai turns away toward his friends, who are silently watching the whole exchange.

Angie stands there, gape mouthed, until her friends pull her toward the door. Logan takes his change while Mike gets down to counting out nickels and pennies for their ice cream.

Just that morning he picked up Fish for surfing and she made it clear her friendship with Gai was on the outs. Despite that, Gai's still sticking up for her. Logan's pride is misplaced, since he had nothing to do with raising the kid, but it's there just the same.

Mike stops counting. "We're short. You guys have another quarter?"

Pulling a five out of his change, Logan steps over and lays it next to the Eskimo pies, then heads to the door. "On me today, guys," he calls back, headed for his truck at a clip.

As he's waiting for a break in the traffic before pulling onto the street, his rearview mirror shows the three boys exit the store. Mike and the other kid are pushing each other and laughing, but Gai stares after him.


2:30pm

Veronica

Research is the worst part of an investigation. For every path that leads to a tangible piece of data, she has to go down a hundred others that lead nowhere. When her phone buzzes with a call, Veronica pushes aside her laptop with relief. "This is Veronica."

"Veronica, hello. This is Freddy Kent. I received a message you called."

The detective who worked for Jennifer Weston's attorney. She grabs a pad and a pen, for notes. "I did Mr. Kent. How are you?"

"Fine. Curious."

"Oh?"

He chuckles at her innocent tone. "I've been in this business a long time. We close the investigation into your husband's murder and then you, who should have no reason to know I was involved, are calling me. Am I supposed to think that's a coincidence?"

"No." Veronica twirls her pen on the legal pad in front of her. "It isn't."

"Want to tell me how you got my name?"

"Does it matter?"

"It does if Shelley, Barnett, Rublin, and Sanchez has a security breach."

Veronica remains quiet. He'll help her or he won't.

It's almost a full minute later when he chuckles again. "I looked into you when I first got the case. My guess is, if there wasn't a breach, you created one. I'm sorry about your husband, he was one of the good ones."

"Thanks, he was. Can I ask you about a marriage certificate you included in the file? You didn't make any notes."

"Uh yup. I was trying to find Weston's dad."

"Her dad's been out of the picture for years."

"So far as we know. But no one in Weston's circle owned a gun. James might."

"It is a thought."

"Yeah. I figured the people who witnessed Abigail and James' wedding might have a bead on how to find him. Old friends, and all that."

"Did they?"

"I didn't get around to making the calls. But I found out James' good buddy, the one who signed the wedding certificate? Names Hugo. Michael Hugo."

"Okay…?"

"Fifteen years ago they arrested Michael Hugo for running a car theft ring, James was his top mechanic. Well, the D.A.s office goes handing out subpoenas, and there's one person they can't find."

"James Weston."

"Right. So Hugo pleads the fifth and his lower-level henchmen only know enough to get him put away for five. He's out in two with good behavior. The D.A.'s pissed because Weston plays right-hand-man to Hugo and they were counting on him to make their case."

"And you think Hugo paid him to disappear."

"Or killed him off, yeah. Either way, James didn't contest when his wife filed for divorce, and was a no show to the proceedings. Now, let me ask you this. Why did Jennifer rob that store?"

"I have no idea."

"Because you're looking too close."

"Fine, she needed money."

"Yeah. And if you're a good kid with a bitch on wheels for a mother, and you need money, is robbery your first choice, or your last resort?"

"You think Jennifer went looking for her dad."

"I think she might have gone looking for her dad. You get how this works—stick your head down a hundred holes and hope to find one rabbit."

"Do you think her dad helped her with the robbery?"

"I don't know. I only got as far as finding the hole, Veronica. The girl pled guilty before I stuck my head down it."

"What about," she shifts her notes around. "A friend of Jennifer's. Red-headed kid named Danny?"

"No, from everything I found, she didn't have any friends."

"Anything else?"

"Nothing that wasn't in the file." In the background someone calls his name. "Happy wabbit hunting, Veronica."

"You too, Freddy."

The legal pad in front of her is full of notes, concentric circles surrounding Michael Hugo's name. Veronica pulls the laptop close and opens a new tab.