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How It Ends
A Luminations Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
How does it end?
How does it ever end? There's a big fight, the good guys win, the bad guys die or go to jail, and everyone who matters lives happily ever after.
That wasn't how it ended for me the last time.
That wasn't an ending.
So, how does it really end?
See, that's the problem.
Trying to see the future?
No. Asking other people to see your future for you.
I was sitting in a motel room with Katy McCormick and Nancy Mateo, and I was working slowly and methodically because I thought we had sixteen hours.
We were going over a list of people that would be part of the coming battle.
"We need someone back at the shop with Em. My vote is for Jake Horner or Marianne Colter," Nancy said.
"They're both fighters. We're gonna need them here." I knew what Nancy was thinking. Both were up around retirement age, and she didn't know either of them well. But they were on my short list of people I wanted on my side in a fight.
"Josh," Katy suggested. "He's good under pressure, and he trusts me to do what I need to do and make it home."
"Okay, that works," Nancy agreed. "So we're going in with Chess, Jake, Katy, Marianne, and Melissa. I coordinate here with Greg, who acts as backup for the strike team. Katy! Stop giggling every time I say 'strike team'! Anyway, Greg is here with me, and Josh and Em in Worcester."
Katy was texting away on her iPhone. She was coordinating all of the communications. Nancy was in charge of planning the support side of things, and I was the tactical leader, with Mattie keeping watch on the spiritual dimension.
"I had one more I wanted you to consider," Katy said. "Kelsie."
"Greg's ex? The born-again Christian?" Nancy sounded skeptical.
"Look, when we were dealing with the redcaps in Arizona a couple of months back and Chess called to ask you about their vulnerabilities, you said that people used to drive them off by quoting bible verses. We're all gonna feel a bit silly doing that. But Kelsie could seriously kick ass."
"What about in a brawl?" I asked.
Katy didn't hesitate. "She'll fight as hard as any of us."
"I could use one more here. Can she work with Greg?" Nancy asked.
Katy nodded. "They're cool."
"Okay," I announced. "Katy, contact everyone and start arranging transportation. Tuckerman is scheduled to arrive at 8 PM. I want everyone in place four hours before that and I want everyone to have a serious chance to back out of this if they choose to."
Across the street from the little motel in the Berkshires where we were making our plans was another motel, this one sporting an out-of-business sign. It had stood unoccupied for the past two years, owned by a holding company whose stockholders were Craig Putnam and Christina Kenney. Putnam, if he knew what was good for him, was well on his way out of town by now. He'd supplied the location and time of the meeting that we were planning on interrupting.
At the moment, there was one occupied room in the otherwise vacant hotel. It was occupied by Christina Kenney and two big Russians who served as her hired muscle. She's arrived just after midnight. It was 4 AM now, and we knew all of this because we had a micro video camera planted in her room that was uploading streaming video to a secure server that we were logged into with one of the laptops.
There was a meeting scheduled, a psychic vampire summit, and as it turned out, the two major participants happened to be the two remaining people who'd participated in the murder of Mattie Ives. Mattie was here sharing my headspace, and we were determined that tonight would be the night it all ended. She's waited more than 25 years for this, and that's a long time to wait, especially if you're dead.
We had six laptops, a trunkload of surveillance gear, two guns, and one vengeful spirit in the room, and by the time Joe Tuckerman showed his face, we were going to have quite a bit more.
That was the plan.
The plan went to hell right around 4:30.
Katy picked up on it first. Someone trying to hack the video server. We had to reboot the connection, but when we did, everything seemed fine. The video image was unchanged. Christina Kenney and the Russians were drinking and playing cards. They'd never gone to bed.
Mattie didn't understand what was wrong, and she resisted even the thought of aborting the operation. She'd waited too long, and we weren't likely to get another shot at Tuckerman and Kenney together.
"Can you log what just happened and send it to Greg?? I asked. Something wasn't right. No one should know the location of that server. But Christina sure as hell wasn't acting like she knew there was a camera on her.
Katy never got the email off to Greg.
The shooting started before she had the chance to send it.
Sometimes you miss the obvious. I've done it. Nancy and Katy have done it.
Mattie has done it, although this time it was Mattie who clued us in.
We heard gunshots. Two in rapid succession, then three more. We looked at the monitor.
Christina and the goons sitting and playing cards.
Katy went to the window, keeping close to the wall as she tried to see what was going on. We didn't have a direct view of Christina's room. That was on purpose. We had the video.
I stood there like an idiot looking from the monitor to the window to Nancy to Katy, until Mattie finally showed me what was wrong.
They didn't react. Are they all deaf or what?
Even if you don't think that a few gunshots warrant interrupting your poker game, you still at least look up when you hear them.
If you hear them. If they've taken place yet.
"We're not looking at a live feed here."
Katy looked away from the window to ask me what I was talking about but her words were lost in breaking glass and then her voice turned to a scream as the hand that smashed through the window caught her by the throat and pulled her head-first into the glass.
The door flew off its hinges and I had my 9-millimeter out and put two bullets into the redcap before he got to me. The shots didn't even slow him down.
It got worse. Joe Tuckerman is in his seventies, but he vaulted through the smashed window frame like a track star, and when my eyes met his, Mattie went absolutely berserk.
I was tunnel-visioning and got blindsided by the redcap and landed somewhere between the beds.
"Stop it Mattie!" I was screaming, fighting her for control while my friends were fighting for their lives and losing badly.
Tuckerman had his foot on Katy's throat and he had a gun out and my panicked cry was what finally made Mattie let go. I was still too late getting to Katy, but Nancy managed it somehow, throwing herself into him. She's big, but he hardly budged.
Tuckerman threw Nancy off, took aim and fired. Nancy's body jerked. She screamed, holding her leg. I tackled him before he could get another shot off.
I was struggling with Tuckerman on the floor and I took an elbow in the jaw that knocked me onto my back. Above me, I could see the redcap, the guy who'd gotten away from the Hopi down in Arizona. He was going after Katy, who'd grabbed a canvas shopping bag out from her pile of gear by the bed.
Katy didn't bother reaching into the bag. She swung it at the redcap, and clocked him good with it. I couldn't believe it. He went down and stayed that way.
Tuckerman got his fingers latched onto my throat and Katy jumped on his back, and for a second I thought we might be winning. Then Tuckerman slammed the back of his head into Katy's face hard enough that she rolled off him and landed in a heap somewhere near Nancy.
I took a swing at Tuckerman but he pulled back and I found myself staring into his pistol.
I'm sorry, Mattie.
No answer. She was screaming inside my head, but I didn't know if she heard me.
Tuckerman gave me room to stand.
"Here's what you missed." He gestured at the laptop with the video surveillance. I watched the shooting as it had happened minutes ago.
Tuckerman and his redcap had kicked in the door to Christina's room. One shot for each of the Russians as they reached for their guns.
Christina tried to talk to Tuckerman. He pumped three bullets into her gut before heading across the street to deal with us.
"I caught up to Putnam trying to leave town. Dumped his body in the woods up in Turners Falls. The rest was easy. Some of those fratboys handled the computer stuff. We didn't have to fool your camera. Just slow it down a little. And then we start the party early. Christina was just a problem I'd been meaning to get around to solving. Business, Chess. You know how that goes."
"Why are you talking to me, Tuckerman?" I thought maybe I could get him riled up, get him distracted. I was also genuinely curious about why I was still breathing. But of course I was missing the obvious again.
"Because killing you won't get rid of Mattie Ives. She has the rather frustrating advantage of already being dead. So you don't get shot yet. First you're gonna put your hands on this for me."
He took a smooth pale rock out of his jacket pocket. It looked pretty ordinary. The kind of rock a New Hampshire farmer might discard as too small to be useful in a stone wall.
I'd never seen it before, but I knew what it was.
"The Peace-Stone? You want to end a grudge? Make peace? Seems a little late for that," I said.
The Hopi Peace-Stone had been stolen from a craftsman in Arizona. I'd made a promise to get it back to its rightful owner. I'd made a lot of promises. They weren't working out very well at the moment.
"You should pay more attention to the details, Chess. This isn't really for making peace. Sure, it gets pulled out when there's a hatchet to be buried, but the peacemaking comes with the shaking hands and sharing a smoke and singing Cumbaya. The stone isn't for making peace; it's for ending the grudge. And actually, it's just for endings. This is an oath-breaking stone, Chess. It's for dispelling magik, dissolving business ventures, annulling marriages, changing your Facebook status to 'it's complicated', and abandoning vows of revenge. Get the picture? It makes Mattie Ives go away once and for all. Oh, and it gives you back your headspace. Hope you enjoy it for the couple of minutes before I blow your fuckin' brains out."
Mattie wasn't panicking anymore. She was waiting.
A movement caught the attention of both of us. Tuckerman, too.
Katy was crawling toward the door, reaching for the baseball bat that she had taken to carrying. The one with the petroglyph carvings.
"You know, Chess, you manage to find some remarkable people to keep company with. Take your friend Katy, here. I really believe she intends to get back up and fight me and keep fighting me until she's dead."
He slipped the stone back into his pocket and took out something else. His microcassette recorder. He clicked down the play and record buttons.
His attention was on Katy now. She was pulling herself up.
"You survived listening to one of my recordings. Let's see how you do as the star performer in one."
She spat out blood and rasped, "Fuck you."
I threw myself at Tuckerman and got slammed in the jaw with the butt end of the pistol.
Tuckerman turned and stepped in Katy's direction.
Christina Kenny was standing over Katy in the doorway, one pressed against her thick stomach and red with fresh blood that oozed out from between her fingers. The other hand reached to take the bat from Katy.
Christina screamed like she'd been burned as her fingers closed on the bat. The runes had been made to fight her. She held on and there was a split second when I didn't know who she was going to swing for.
Christina swung at Tuckerman.
She threw herself into the effort, her body falling as all of her weight went into the swing that hit the side of Tuckerman's head. Christina went down. Tuckerman staggered backward toward me. He'd been hurt but not enough.
He got his balance and stared down at me.
"You got nothin' left. None of you do." He sneered.
"You're missing the obvious too." I whispered. "You have to beat us both."
And I gave Mattie control.
I felt my fingers close around something in my pocket, something I'd forgotten was there.
It was the arrowhead we'd gotten in the gift shop at Howe Caverns in upstate New York.
Tuckerman reached down for me. My fist shot straight up with the flint clutched between my knuckles tight enough to cut my skin. It smashed into his face and my fingers opened, leaving the arrowhead stuck in Tuckerman's left eye.
Nancy was reaching up toward me with something in her hand. The rune. Nancy's sanctuary rune, the one that had warded her shop.
I felt it slip into my hand and met Tuckerman's charge with another punch, this time with the rune pendant wrapped around my left fist.
The bat next. Tuckerman was reeling, staggering.
"Pay for your sins, you bastard!" Mattie's voice.
With Mattie's rage swinging the bat. Smashing Tuckerman's face and driving the arrowhead the rest of the way in.
That was how Mattie Ives avenged her own death.
"How does it end?"
Katy was bandaging Nancy. I was tying the unconscious redcap's wrists.
It was Christina Kenney who asked the question. She was alive, on one of the beds, breathing in short gasps.
I looked to Nancy, and Nancy looked at Katy. None of us had an answer for Christina.
Christina inched to the edge of the bed and reached down. She shook the Peace Stone out of Joe Tuckerman's jacket and clunked onto the floor.
"Fine," She said. "I'll tell you how it ends. You shoot me in the head and walk out of here. Mattie, maybe that will bring you peace. I don?t know. It would be justice, I guess. I watched you die. Maybe I could have stopped it. And I haven't exactly made amends since then. But I want to live. That's what this was always about. I was afraid. And I still am. So here's my offer. I touch this stone, and it undoes the ritual that made me what I am. It'll free everyone I've ever taken from, and I'll be mortal again. I don?t know how much time I'll have. Maybe none. He hurt me pretty bad, but I was tough before I became this way, so who knows? I can't make right what was done to you, Mattie. If there was a power that would take it back, I'd do it, but there's not. That's how it ends, Mattie. You decide."
How does a restless soul find peace? Is it in an act of revenge or is it in an act of forgiveness? Or something between the two?
I don?t know. But I'm willing to try.
Mattie took control again. I felt my hand moving, felt the warm wet of blood as I took Christina's hand in mine and we touched the Peace Stone together.
Katy's broken nose was still in bandages, but she was on the mend.
"I just have one thing I've been wanting to ask you," I began.
"And that would be?"
"Just what the hell was in that bag you hit the redcap with."
I didn't know what happened to the redcap. Christian had insisted that she would get things cleaned up, and with Nancy and Katy both hurt, I just wanted to get my friends some medical attention. As far as anyone could tell, Christina had gotten it done. Nothing had made the papers.
Katy was grinning. "Well, you said they were vulnerable to sacred objects, right? So I just threw in everything that was on my altar shelf in my dorm room."
"That works, I guess." I said.
"And a brick," she added.
We both laughed.
"They're having a memorial for Mattie at the shop next week. Everyone will be there," Katy said, turning serious.
"But you won't?" she asked.
"No," I said. "I won't be there. But neither will you."
We were standing by Katy's car in the parking lot of the strip mall where the Luminations Agency had its office. Katy's Prius was loaded up with luggage for the trip out west.
"I've got this, Chess. You know that, right?"
I smiled. "Yeah. I know that. And I appreciate you doing it. That stone needs to get back home, and well, I hear you're pretty good at road trips."
"Plus I get a nice long school vacation." She grinned back at me.
"Nancy is probably gonna need your help when you get back. She'll still be on crutches. And the shop is still sanctuary."
"For whoever needs it. I know."
I had one more thing I needed to ask her. "Katy, about Christina?"
"As long as she stays the fuck out of my way."
"Okay." I hugged her and she held on when I started to pull away.
"Chess, what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to have some time alone. It's been a while since I've had that."
"You're not exactly in a position to make demands, Mr. Hall." The Suffolk County District Attorney was used to intimidating people. I could appreciate that.
But I knew better.
"You have no case. If you had a case, you would have had me arrested. Simple as that."
He tried the poker face. Fair enough. He knew there was a reason I'd walked into his office.
"I'm offering you a full confession. I'll testify under oath that I shot Richard Harrington in the head."
"Because I feel guilty about getting away with murder for three years. Good enough? "
The D.A. shook his head. "Actually, no. It's not good enough. You barely knew Richard Harrington. He was an old man. That's one of the things we've never been able to figure out with this case. What the hell was your motive?"
I smiled. "Harrington was a murderer. He confessed it to me. And I knew that no one would ever bring him to justice. I couldn't let him get away with it. Just like I can't let myself get away with it either."
"So what do you want from me? Immunity for your ex-girlfriend?"
"Yes. And something else. I want you to execute a warrant on Harrington's property based on the testimony I give you under oath. I want you to recover the body of a girl named Mattie Ives who was buried in a concrete foundation behind the Harrington residence, and I want you to give her a decent burial."
I was going to have some time alone. A long time.
I was looking forward to it.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2009