By the time Rick Jennings left the scene of the murdered family in Exeter New Hampshire it was late and he was severely depressed and weary with fatigue. He knew very little about why a seemingly disaffected family had died the way they had, and even less about why their young daughter had literally disappeared without a trace. The more he thought about it the more he believed that CSI Kohler had been right when he’d said that something supernatural had happened to them. It was the only explanation that made sense, tasteless as it was. Jennings knew a little something about the supernatural. He’d known Doug McArthur since the kid’s first supernatural incident, and had come to believe—at least to the extent his logical mind would allow—that there were things in the world that defied convention.
He too had felt something in that house, he could not deny it, not the evil itself—the evil would have turned all their brains to fossils if it had still been there; he was utterly certain of that—but some sort of spine-chilling residue left there by the evil. Perhaps it had been left on purpose, like a calling card: I’m back, so be warned. Jennings had felt chilled to his marrow. Ten years gone and now the elusive monster had returned. He’d felt exactly the same way following several of McArthur’s earlier episodes.
On the flight back to Portland Jennings had felt unclean. He’d wanted nothing more than to go home and shower the evil residue off his skin. And that’s exactly what he did.
Afterwards, feeling restless, he drove to the station. Traffic was light on the boulevard. An emergency vehicle sped past silently, lights flashing hypnotically. Suddenly everything seemed to have a surreal quality about it. His life came into sharp focus in his thoughts and he did not like what he saw.
The truth was, his life sucked. He worked all the time and on the rare occasion that he wasn’t working, he had no social life. He lived alone in a small unpretentious second floor apartment; he had no pets, no hobbies and precious few people he could call true friends. He had been married once years ago but it had ended tragically when an undercover police investigation discovered evidence that his wife of three years, Emily, was sleeping with a high ranking city official. They’d met at a department Christmas party and the charismatic official had seduced her. Just like that. How do you fucking do? It wasn’t enough that Jennings had been ignorant of the affair; he’s the one they’d assigned to investigate the corrupt councilman. And the bastards, his supposed buddies on the force, didn’t tell him the truth until it was too late.
When the smoke cleared five people were dead: the corrupt councilman, two police officers, one of the councilman’s body guards, and tragically, his own deceitful wife. She’d been innocent of all crimes except one.
When the good councilman realized the gig was up he’d turned the gun on Emily and then on himself. Jennings wondered often how he could have been so fucking naïve. He’d wanted desperately for someone to suffer for the crimes committed, but alas, the guilty parties were all dead. He had spent the better part of his career between then and now trying to make up for his inadequacies. He’d ended up alone and overweight, his self-respect in shambles. He had never found it in his heart to forgive Emily. He doubted he ever would.
That was about the same time he’d met McArthur and his family. After McArthur’s parents were killed he’d felt sorry for the kid and had sort of taken him under his wing. He’d become more attached to the boy than he ever intended. Doug had become the son Jennings never had, a replacement for all the misguided love and heartache in his own life. Now Doug, the only person he truly cared about in this world, was in trouble and the bastards had told him to get lost. This time he wasn’t having it. They’d almost destroyed him once. They would not get another chance. And no way were they going to destroy his son.
It was after six by the time he got to the station. Rosemary had gone home for the day, but the usual array of night duty slackers hung out. Jennings exchanged polite greetings with the sergeant at the desk and went to his office. He checked his answering machine: nothing. Rosemary had left him a note saying she believed Doug and Annie had gone to Florida and that she would discuss details with him in the morning. Jennings was too tired or too depressed to pursue anything more today.
Realizing he hadn’t eaten, he decided that sustenance was just what he needed to lift his spirits. It was almost seven o’clock before he settled into his booth at Chang Hop’s. He had occupied the same table there at least three nights a week for the past dozen years or so. Chang served up the best Chinese food north of Boston, and he always gorged himself, eating in one sitting what his diet lacked in nutrition and excellence throughout the rest of the week.
As he sat waiting for the menu, he could not get the day’s events out of his mind. Why that family? Why that little girl? Her name was Trinity. Why did that ring some sort of vague bell? Like a slippery eel something tried to surface in his mind, but when he tried to grasp hold of it, it slithered away.
The biggest question of all, of course, was why Doug and Annie? Why had their house been destroyed? Why were they on the run? What connection did they have with the New Hampshire incident, and what was Spencer’s involvement? Something was eluding him. Something important. He felt it strongly but could not see it. He needed to think, to get his head on straight.
Jennings felt suddenly sick. He decided that food was the last thing he needed.
When Carl, his waiter, brought him the menu, Jennings told him to bring him a double shot of bourbon on the rocks. Carl looked quizzically at him. He was a small oriental man with sparkling eyes and a perpetual grin that showed two rows of brilliantly white, perfectly aligned teeth. Jennings had no idea how he’d gotten the name Carl. It was a name that belonged more to a strapping Scandinavian with blond hair and bib overalls than a sawed-off oriental waiter.
Carl did not move. Just stared.
“Carl, did you hear me? I asked for a double bourbon on the rocks.”
Carl’s perpetual smile suddenly decayed into something that resembled a frown. “Bourbon, Sir?” Carl asked, as if he had not heard correctly.
“Yes Carl, I said bourbon. I’d like it now, please.” Carl shuffled quickly away and in a moment was back with the liquor.
Jennings brought the glass to his lips staring at it for a long moment. “Fuck it,” he said, upending it. He decided he liked the bite of it on his tongue and the vast, spreading warmth in his gut; like a visit with an old friend.
He considered the day. What should he do? He’d been warned off the case, yet, according to Spencer, he was back in. Why? And who’d made Spencer king of the fucking world? Did Spencer think he could lead him to Doug? Was that it? It didn’t make sense. All Spencer had to do was check with De Roché. It would be that easy. The fucking FBI moved with impunity. They were kings of the world. They could do anything they fucking wanted to do. It made the most sense that that’s where Doug and Annie had gone. So why did Spencer need him? Why didn’t he just go and get Doug if that’s what he wanted. There had to be something more to Spencer’s involvement, something he wasn’t seeing.
The waiter shook him from his reverie, all grins. “Are you ready to order, Lieutenant?” Only he pronounced it Rieutenant. Carl held his pencil to the pad waiting for instructions.
Carl’s grin did not falter. “Order?” he said.
Jennings shook his head.
Carl’s unblemished face sagged. “You no eat?”
“No, just bring me another drink.” Carl shuffled away moving like a retarded child, scratching his head and mumbling unintelligibly. By the time the second drink was gone Jennings decided he felt pretty good. He picked a fortune cookie out of the bowl on the table in front of him, broke it open and read the message.
“That wasn’t chicken,” the message said. Jennings sat for a minute staring at the tiny strip of rice paper with the printed message. An explosion went off inside his head. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered. “That’s it. It never has been chicken.” He threw the message on the table, got up and left the restaurant.
At home that night, Jennings tried finding a telephone number for De Roché in Florida. He had no idea where in Florida they lived so he had the operator search the entire state. I’ve got to talk to Doug, he thought. Warn him. If he had been more interested in Annie’s past he wouldn’t be having this problem. Christ, why hadn’t he been? He could not adequately answer that question. Perhaps it was a testament to his own insensitivity. Maybe that’s why Emily had fucked around on him. He was an insensitive bastard. Don’t think about that, goddamn it! You don’t ever want to go back there. You might start seeing through all the bullshit. And you don’t really want to see through the bullshit, do you? You might pull out your revolver and start killing people.
The message in the fortune cookie had given him an idea. If he’d learned anything in his years as a police officer it was that you almost always went with your initial instincts. At least for him they didn’t lie. Things were rarely something other than what they seemed. You just had to look long enough and deep enough to see through all the muck and mire, and then things would become clear. In this case, however, it seemed the deeper he looked the murkier things got, and he thought there might be a reason for that. A reason so diabolical he was having a hard time accepting it.
The operator came back with several numbers listed for De Roché in Florida, but none for an Edmund. He tried the numbers anyway, without luck. Jennings hung up the phone in frustration.
The liquor cabinet beckoned. He tried to avoid it. It had been locked for more than a year, since his doctor had warned him about his liver, his cholesterol, high blood pressure, all conspiring to put him in an early grave. His co-workers had been avoiding him. He wondered why until one day Rosemary took him aside and said if he didn’t smarten the hell up he’d be either dead or unemployed.
Jennings had stared at her, uncomprehending.
“You think I like being an asshole?” She’d said with an expression of pained regret on her face. “The truth is you stink like a brewery. Every morning you come staggering in here with your eyes glazed over smelling like stale booze.”
That had been it. He never once went to AA. He hated organizations. He hated meetings. He hated confessions. But mostly he hated whiners. This was something he could do on his own. Three weeks into it he thought he was dying. The shakes had him by the nuts and he couldn’t sleep. But he was stubborn. He persevered. Unfortunately he had never lost the craving.
With two doubles already under his belt he located the place where he had hidden the liquor cabinet key more than a year ago. Gingerly he opened the door and pulled out a bottle three quarters full of James Dickel. He didn’t fall into bed until he saw the bottom of the bottle. His dreams were populated with victims; frozen, fossilized, some had eyes that were wide open and staring, others had no eyes, or ears or even mouths. None had souls.