A Luminations Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
You don't need to be.
No, really. I'm sorry you have to go through this. It's different for you. You're not a murderer.
Neither are you. You're a murder victim.
I am a murderer. I just havenít done the killings yet.
Predestination, is it? You should take a lesson from Katy. She didn't believe in predestination.
Not predestination. Necessity. Some people just need to die. But I am sorry you have to be part of it.
It's like you said, Mattie. Some people need to stop breathing. Let's get it over with.
You can learn so much without ever having to talk to anyone these days. Chester logged me into something called the Multiple Listings Service and there was every one of Craig Putnam's real estate transactions, right at my fingertips.
I didn't have time to catch up on the more obscure points of the Real Estate Crash of '08, but I could understand it at a basic level. Subprime mortgages, credit swaps, and hedge funds were new. People taking out loans they couldn't pay back; that had been going on as long as there was money to borrow and friends to mooch off.
Putnam had been Richard Harrington's money man, back when Richard Harrington was alive. Now he was in the real estate business, or rather, he was in the business of auctioning off bank-owned properties. That was where the money was in real estate these days.
Harrington and his wife were dead. Bobby was dead too. Four people who were there the night I died were still living, or at least possibly still living. And Craig Putnam was the key to finding them.
I was still thinking about beating the information out of him.
We've been over this. You'd be warning them. There are better ways.
Better. Look again. Find patterns.
I kept looking. It felt like it had been weeks of staring at the computer screen, eating cold pizza, drinking Mountain Dew by the bottle while we scanned Google and the MLS for patterns. I had no idea how long we'd really been at it.
I just knew that one day in mid-March, something got Chester's attention.
Montague, Massachusetts. Why does a listing drop off the list?
Because it sells. Chester, we've seen properties dropped off the list before.
Right. And then theyíre listed on Putnam's site as sold or 'sale pending'. That's good business. In this economy people want to go with a winner.
Maybe it will be listed there tomorrow. Or the next day. Updating these webthings takes work, right?
Patterns, Mattie. We don't just see the present, we can see the past. When we've looked at past activities, this has been going on for a while. One listing gets pulled off every few months. Then it gets listed again. The ownership of properties is a matter of public record, but it would take some digging at the office of the County Registrar of Deeds.
But we can find out?
We donít need to. It's gotta be Putnam himself or some front company that he owns. The question is, why does he want to shuffle ownership of some properties in different parts of Massachusetts on a regular basis? I can't speak for Putnam, but I know why I'd do it. I'd do it to hide something. Or someone.
I jotted down the address and packed up the laptop. Chester had fallen silent. He had nothing more to say.
Time to go house hunting. Well, hunting, anyway.
We were crossing the rusting steel bridge into the town of Turners Falls. To the north was the Vermont border. To the south, Amherst Massachusetts and the surrounding towns, home to the Five Colleges. Chester was rambling on with an old story about how the characters from Scooby Doo were supposed to represent students at those schools. It was one of those rare moments when I appreciated one of Chester's jokes.
Just an urban myth, though. Like phantom hitchhikers and...
What? Ghosts? Psychic vampires?
Gang initiations, actually. That was what I was going to say. You know, you'd be surprised at the gang problems out in these little towns. It's gotten so even the criminals can't afford the rent in Boston.
We drove through town and up into the hills, passing a couple of shops displaying hippie fashion and secondhand books. The greens and oranges and blues of tie-dye spirals on t-shirts, dresses, and overalls hit me in ways that the sight in the mirror each morning never did. It wasn't that there was no place in the world for me anymore. What hurt was that there was a place for me. It isn't what changes. It's what stays the same.
A truck honked its horn behind me and I realized I'd been stopped at a green light. I sped up and got out of town. The GPS guided me up into the hills.
"Your destination is ahead on the left."
The ever-rational voice of the machine did nothing to prepare me for what I saw.
Not a house.
A pickup truck, tires slashed, windows smashed, pulled off the road in front of a burned pile of rubble set down an embankment and back from the road.
What the hell?
Chester didn't have anything to say. Probably figured that I could use his eyes as well as he could. Nothing to do but have a look. Search for clues.
It hadn't been cleaned up. That was what was so strange about it. It wasn't like the house had burned down the night before. The elements had had some time to work on the place. It was crumbling, rotting.
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it make a sound? And if a house burns down and nobody owns it, does anyone clean up the mess?
Except that someone did own this place.
My foot touched the ground beside the car door and I started to feel the presence of the place. Hopelessness. Despair. The stink of it lingered under the sweet smell of rot that welled up from the rubble and ashes.
It wasn't like when I went back to Harrington's place up in Bedford. There was no dark blot on the scene, no paralyzing fear to grip my throat and squeeze. Just a lingering sadness. It wasn't going stop me, but I nearly tripped climbing down from the road. It was a distraction. I focused on my breathing for a moment to get my concentration back.
Most of the walls had burned to the foundation. There was a chimney, and there was half a flight of stairs, ascending into nothing, a stairway to heaven cut short of its destination. There was a huge pile of half-melted VHS tapes and a weird little statue of a faerie with one wing broken off, surrounded by fragments of colored bottles laid out like a shrine.
There were rotting magazines and mud-filled ashtrays, and the tangled wires of a smashed boxspring stretched out across the top of a pile of flagstones.
What? No one. Not here.
But you feel something.
Yes, I feel something. Whatever happened here... I can only sense traces, but it was bad.
Chester slipped back. Examining the evidence, maybe. I didn't know exactly what to look for. I tried the video tapes. Movies, apparently. I couldn't make out most of them. I didn't recognize the few titles I could read.
I picked my way through bricks and boards along the edge of the basement pit to the staircase. Up or down? Down felt worse, and besides there wasn't an up to go to anymore.
If there had been stairs to the basement, they were gone. I spotted a metal stepstool under some boards. I pulled the planks away. I always enjoy the chance to test Chester's strength. It's a silly thing to dwell on, but satisfying all the same. The stool was folded and bent. A couple of kicks got it back to a useful, if a bit unsteady, configuration.
I lowered it into the pit and then lowered myself down onto it and stepped the rest of the way onto the piles of loose bricks and shingles.
It was worse down here. Much worse. Something had happened here.
What? Wait. I can do that?
Don't know until you try, right?
I tried. I backed into one corner, sweeping my head around, trying to open myself to everything I could feel from the place. I winced as my gaze passed the rusted oil tank that occupied one side of the concrete hole.
Okay. Repeat the process. I marked the line of sight first, then tried from another corner.
The lines crossed at one corner of the oil tank, where some of the chimney bricks had fallen.
I knelt down and started to dig. It didnít take long. The chain was thinner than I would have expected, but I pulled on it with all of Chester's strength and there was no give to it. A welded ring attached the chain to one steel leg of the oil tank at one end. At the other was a locking ankle-cuff. There was about five feet of chain. Five feet of movement for whoever was kept down in this pit.
I thought it was a safehouse. The way they were moving the location around. I look for patterns and that was the pattern I saw. But it's not. It's a feeding station.
But... Christina seduces her victims. They give themselves to her willingly. She's never needed to chain anyone.
Then either she's not as good at this as she used to be...
I finished the thought. Or this isn't her work.
I suddenly realized I'd been down in the pit too long. I wanted to stop thinking, stop moving. I wanted to sit and weep for whoever had lived and maybe died down in this dank hole. It was time to go.
Climbing out was harder. I slipped once, but finally got a decent foothold on a pipe that was sticking out of the foundation and hauled myself up.
"Nice day isn't it?" The police officer was sitting on the second step of the stairway to nowhere, her hand placed casually, but purposefully on her holstered sidearm. "You're under arrest."
I got my phone call. I got Chester's lawyer's voicemail. Around dinnertime, I got a plain McDonald's hamburger. No fries, no Coke. The policewoman who had arrested me brought it in. There was no one else in the cell. It was apparently a slow night in Montague's town lockup.
I was worried. I knew Chester was in trouble with the law. They suspected him of killing Harrington, but he hadn't been charged. I didn't know the details, and Chester was in deep hiding. I could probably find the information, but I didn't like to go digging. We'd reached an understanding about that and I wasn't ready to break it.
I lost track of time, but it was late when an officer, a man this time, came to the cell. He was older, looked like he'd been doing this for a while.
"Let's go." Those were the only words he said to me.
I was led to an empty office. The interrogation room. No fishbowl windows or one-way mirrors. Just a folding table and a chair. I sat down and waited. I figured they'd keep me waiting. Everything happens on their time. Chester's lawyer had probably called back by now, and they'd probably come up with some excuse to stall him.
It might have been an hour, maybe not. I haven't had a good sense of time since I came back to the world. Once you lose that it's hard to pick it up again. And it wasn't all bad. Waiting didn't bother me. These cops had no idea what waiting was.
The door opened. The man who entered was old, probably approaching mandatory retirement. He had on a suit jacket and a Red Sox cap pulled down low, and he mumbled as he fiddled with the lock and dragged a stool into the room.
I got my first look at him when his eyes met mine, and the recognition was instantaneous. I didn't need to look down to his badge. I knew what it said.
Det. Joe Tuckerman.
He put a handheld cassette recorder down on the table and pushed down the play and record buttons.
"Chess Hall. District Attorney's office is gonna be real interested in what you have to say. So am I."
Chester could sense I was panicking and suddenly we were fighting for control, and when we fight for control, neither of us can do anything.
Tuckerman just waited, his heavily-lined face slack and expressionless.
Chester finally realized that it was getting us nowhere and he let go. By then Iíd had time to think it out. As much as I wanted to snap the bastard's neck, he probably had another officer waiting right outside the door. And if I lost my chance...
"Know what they call me around here, Chess? They call me Padre. Any idea why that is?" He spoke in a half-mumble, half-whisper.
"No idea, Detective." I played along. It was something to do.
"Well, some of the young officers. And let's face it, they're all young officers next to me. Anyway, some of them say it's 'cause I was in the seminary years back. And some of 'em say it's just 'cause I'm everybody's old man around here. The father figure for the department, you know what I mean?"
He stopped, possibly expecting an answer. I waited.
"But the guys who've been here, who've really been on the force for some years, they know. I'm Padre, because I'm the one who hears everybody's confession."
I smiled. "Fine. Trespassing. Guilty as charged. See the judge first thing in the morning? I wouldn't want to be late when they slap me with that fine."
He gave just a hint of a yellow-toothed smile in return.
"I have a better idea, Chess. Since we have this time together, why don't you confess something a bit more interesting. Tell me about your worst sin, Chess."
I couldn't resist. "I'd rather tell you about the worst thing that was ever done to me."
He leaned back in his chair. "I might enjoy that. Stories of our past sins fascinate me. You might say I devour them."
Suddenly it was Chester answering. "Like your friend Christina Kenney enjoys poetry, right? Like Hector Mendes has a taste for personal tragedy? Let's cut the bullshit, Tuckerman. I know about the fun you like to have with a tape recorder, and I've got a pretty good idea that it goes beyond just satisfying your sadistic fantasies."
He coughed, forced a choking laugh, then coughed again to clear his throat.
"I'll bet you have some interesting ones, Chess. Where to begin?"
"I'll begin be invoking my Fifth-Amendment rights against self-incrimination, you son of a bitch." And just like that I was back in front and Chester was so far gone I could barely sense him.
Tuckerman got up and walked out. I lost track of time again, but I don't think it was long. The night-duty officer was with him when he came back.
"You're being released, Mr. Hall." The officer took me out through the station and returned my possessions.
"Your car got towed to the impound lot here. Two hundred cash."
I asked him where to find an ATM and he told me there was a bank up the street.
But when I walked out, the car was at the curb in front of the station, with Tuckerman at the wheel.
He rolled down the window.
"Let's settle this," he whispered.
I got in and we drove into the night.
The Great Falls Discovery Center is one of the main tourist attractions of the village of Turners Falls. Actually, the Falls themselves are the attraction. The Discovery Center is just a chance for the town to make some cash from the folks who stop by to look and take pictures. Apparently, there were exhibits on the Falls and on the local mills that had been powered by the river for so many years. There was probably a great gift shop too.
Of course it was after midnight and the place was dark and silent when we pulled into the parking lot. Tuckerman didn't say a word. He got out and turned away from the Discovery Center and walked out to the sidewalk and toward the bridge.
We walked out there like two gunslingers, both of us knowing that we'd long passed the point where we'd both be walking back off that bridge.
He stopped half way, and there was something about the ease with which he walked that hinted of familiarity. This wasn't his first time making this walk. And he'd been the one to walk back every other time.
"I'm not Chester Hall," I told him.
"I know. I don't like to have to do a job twice. But you're itchin' to tell me who you are, so go ahead."
He shrugged. "Never heard of ya."
The rage boiled over and Chester did nothing to stop it this time.
I rushed him, shoving him toward the rail as I took hold of the collars of his jacket to heave him over.
He planted his feet and we stopped hard. His hands came up and broke my grip, and he'd broken my nose and hit me in the face two more times before I realized I'd been hit once.
He spun me around and slammed me into the railing and then punched my gut and stomped down hard on my foot. Chester is big. He's stronger than I ever was before. I may as well have been in my old body for all the good it was doing me.
I swung my fists, already too weak from the beating I'd taken. He wasn't letting up. My back was rammed into that metal rail again and again.
I clawed at his face, but he just pulled back a step and damn near broke my jaw with an uppercut I never saw coming.
Not yet. Let him think he's won.
His hand gripped on my throat now, his other fist pummeling my head, my ear, my cheek, smearing the blood when he hit my nose again. The headlights of a truck lit us up, but he never stopped hitting me and the truck just roared on by.
"Christina feeds on imagination. Makes her soft. Diet of sin keeps a man fit, don't you agree?" He threw his head back and half-coughed-half-laughed as I started to slip away. My hands lost their grip on his wrist.
I caught hold of the metal bars of the railing. Kicked out with both feet. It wasn't me doing it.
It was only enough to knock him back two steps.
He lunged. And then one of my hands had his wrist and one hand was in his armpit, and I could feel his strength, his momentum, overwhelming except that it was all rushing past me as Tuckerman went into the air and over the rail of the bridge.
He caught the other side by one hand and hung there.
"I lied, bitch," he snarled. "I remember you. You screamed real good. Best tape I ever..."
I repaid the broken nose in kind. It took a second punch to break his grip and send him plunging into the rapids fifty feet below.
The walk back to the car might have taken forever. I'm not good with time.
When my vision finally cleared enough that I thought I might be able to drive, I asked Chester if he would take over.
He got us home.
When I woke up late the next afternoon, I cleaned myself up as best I could and then sat at Chester's desk, looking down at the list of names I'd made.
The warning wasn't necessary. Chester said it anyway.
Don't cross off Tuckerman. Not until they've found the body.
They didn't, of course.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2009