A Luminations Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
You've been quiet.
I've been letting you do your work.
It's almost done.
Good. So am I.
Craig Putnam wasn't on the list.
There were only two names on the list, two people who participated in my murder who were still alive: Christina Kenney and Joe Tuckerman.
But Craig Putnam was the key to finding both of them. We started hunting for Craig Putnam at the beginning of the year. Craig Putnam was good at staying hidden. So a few months back, before we took the trip out to Arizona, Chester had come up with a new plan.
Hunting isn't working. It's time to go fishing.
It took a while to bait the hook. Chester took some of the money that I'd acquired from Richard Harrington's accounts and got his old detective mentor Jake Horner to set up a front corporation.
Then we set about purchasing a piece of property that we thought Putnam might be interested in. We settled on a bankrupt B&B in York, Maine, out on a back road away from the beach and the lobster shacks and soft-serve places. Then we just waited for Putnam to make an appointment to see it.
It was only a matter of time.
Putnam had an ongoing shell-game for his psychic-vampire friend Christina Kenney. She needed a continuously-changing supply of safehouses to stash her dwindling stock of victims, the lonely artist-boys whose obsessed imaginations she was feeding on.
Putnam was an accomplished real estate speculator who had made millions buying foreclosed properties on the cheap, slapping on a new coat of paint, and foisting them off on would-be investors who attended seminars on how to get rich in real estate. The only one getting rich was Craig Putnam.
We rented a nice, generic-looking Toyota Corolla with Maine plates and backed it into the driveway of the dilapidated inn so that the rental logo on the back plate wouldn't be visible. Around a curve in the road, we had Katy McCormick parked out of sight as our backup, and we had Nancy Mateo coordinating the operation from her shop back in Worcester. We'd taken our time diving up the Maine coast on US-1. Chester preferred that road to I-95.
I love the old motels, the diners, the fiberglass giants and the neon signs.
There were more when I was alive. From Maine to Florida, and out on Route-66 from Chicago to L.A.
You did the Route-66 trip?
Oh, yes. Once with my mom and once alone.
I never had the chance. They shut it down so long ago.
It's okay, Chester. It was fun, but it was ugly too. The desert is still there. That's what matters to me. Besides, every day I see things that I'll never get to do.
Mattie? Has something changed? What's wrong?
I'd gotten tired. That was what was wrong. And I was scared. I didn't know if I could see it through to the end. I'd planned and schemed and prepared, but I'd done all of that once before and it had ended with me dead. I wasn't afraid of death.
I was afraid that I was going to let Joe Tuckerman and Christina Kenney win again, because I'd never been strong enough.
You're not alone this time.
I know, Chester. The katsina tells me that, too.
I took the little wood doll from the front pouch of Chester's backpack when we were stopped at a stoplight. The longhair katsina's blank expression brought a moment's calm and comfort. Chester didn't feel it the way I did, but it had been a gift for me, not for Chester.
I just appreciate the irony. How the voice in my head is hearing voices in her head.
I don't have a head, Chester. It's all in your head.
Now that's real comforting, Mattie.
But for me, it was. The katsina came from a safe place in my past, one of the only safe places I'd ever known. It held the hope that in some way, maybe I could find that place again, the place where the sand was warm on my skin in the cooling air under all the stars in the universe.
I left the front door to the inn open and Putnam walked right in an hour after I arrived.
"Hello, Craig." I stepped out from the sitting room just off the main lobby.
Putnam was a thin, balding man dressed in a sharp business suit and carrying a briefcase. He had graying hair and glasses.
Putnam took one look at me, dropped the briefcase and ran for his life.
I tackled him in the dirt driveway halfway to his car.
He fought with more panic than skill, but with panic comes strength. The heel of his shoe connected with the bridge of my nose, and he rolled onto his back and sat up, reaching for something in his coat.
Chester tried to take control. Bad idea. I was trying to do one thing and he was trying to do something else, and just like it always happens, the two of us did nothing.
Putnam pulled his hand out of his jacket pocket clutching a Zippo lighter.
I almost laughed. Then I saw the lettering scratched onto the black of the lighter. Latin.
A grin started to spread on Putnam's face.
"I got this from Hector Mendes," he said. "He calls it exorcism in a box."
He flipped the lighter open and the flame danced in the cold air.
The gravel of the driveway under me dissolved away into warm sand of the Arizona desert.
Putnam was standing over me. I was in the sand, still warm from the just-set sun. I was looking up at the first stars I see tonight, and Putnam was blocking my view. He was also holding a sword. I was holding a katsina doll. Still, he hesitated. Maybe he was admiring the view. In this dream-space, I had my own body, not Chester's. I was dressed in cutoff jeans and the little tanktop that I used to wear on hot days hiking through the desert.
I pulled a leg back ready to kick Putnam in the balls if he took another step toward me. Turns out I didn't need to.
Chester grabbed Putnam by the shoulder, spun him around and decked him with a straight right to the chin. I was smiling when I stood up. Craig Putnam had just made the biggest mistake of his life. His little toy wasn't an exorcism in a box. It was a nonstop ticket straight into my subconscious. Which happened to reside in Chester Hall's head.
And that meant Putnam was outnumbered two to one. Not only that, but during the fight with Mendes I realized something about this place. It was mine. It didn't belong to Mendes, or even to Chester. It sure as hell didn't belong to Putnam.
And if it was mine, then I could control it. I'd been practicing. I stood while Chester kicked Putnam in the ribs. I was wearing a leather jacket and motorcycle boots now.
"It's warm here," I said. "Let's cool things down."
The ground and sky shimmered and black turned to white. Putnam gave a gasping cry as he suddenly found himself in a foot and a half of snow. Chester flashed a smile in my direction.
"Oglala Oyanke. The Pine Ridge Reservation. South Dakota. I grew up here. The winters are pretty harsh."
The wind picked up, sending billows of snow into the air. Chester pulled Putnam to his feet. The sword he'd been carrying was gone, buried in a snow drift. Putnam looked scared and very much alone. Chester held him and looked at my right hand. The katsina doll was gone, replaced by a hunting knife.
"What happens if we kill him here?" Chester asked.
"His brain will think he's dying. It could send his body into shock, trigger a stroke or a heart attack, burst an aneurysm."
"Wait…" Putnam had found his voice.
Chester ignored him.
"Wait a minute, Mattie. So, what you're saying is that we could stab this sorry son of a bitch, right here and right now, and when they found the body it would look like natural causes?"
I nodded. "No one would ever know."
"Hold on… We can make a deal…"
"You've been making a deal with the Devil, Putnam. You've been hurting people for years. This seems like a pretty lonely place and a pretty bad audience for regrets." Chester walked him closer to me, step by step through the snow.
Putnam started bawling. "They promised me I could be like them! I could live forever. I've never done a thing I wanted to do in my life, damn it! And how much time do I have left? Who wouldn't want what they have?"
"People with common decency?" Chester asked.
"You beat me to it," I said.
Chester threw Putnam down in the snow.
"You're an interesting case, Craig. You're not actually one of them. Just a wannabe. And you're also not on Mattie's list. If you were, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I'd be standing back and watching Mattie do whatever she wanted to you. So as much as you're a miserable excuse for a human being, there's still the possibility that we could bargain. What have you got to offer?"
Putnam looked up at us.
"They taught me the rituals! I can teach you their secrets! Their power! You can have it too!"
"Ooh. Bad answer. Haul him back up, Chess. Let's get this over with." I pulled the knife out of its sheath.
"No! No, wait! My phone! You can have my phone! It's encrypted. The password is 'Stoker'. You know, like the Count Dracula guy. And then I'll disappear! I swear to God I'll leave town and you'll never hear from me again!"
I looked at Chess. He nodded.
"Deal," I said.
"Hey, Mattie. His little gadget brought us here. Any idea how we get back to the Prime Material Plane?"
I nodded. "Yeah. Knock him out."
Chester cracked his knuckles. "I was hoping you'd say that."
Katy was standing over Putnam with her baseball bat deciding whether it would help to hit him or not when I came back to reality.
"Chess. You seriously need to stop doing that."
"Mattie," I corrected her. I stood up and reached down to take the lighter out of Putnam's hand. The flame had gone out but there was still fuel in it.
Putnam was out cold.
"Sorry, Mattie," Katy said.
I found his phone on his belt and tossed it to Katy. "Password is 'Stoker'. I'm not completely sure what I'm looking for."
Katy fiddled with the phone and her face lit up in a grin. "Jackpot," she said. "His event calendar. Christina Kenney has a meeting scheduled in two days with a 'JT'."
"Yeah. All the bad guys in one convenient place. Time to end this."
Katy left to get back to Worcester and make plans.
I got into the rental car and drove up the Maine coast until night fell and I parked near a quiet stretch of beach. I had plans of my own. I gathered up driftwood in a spot that was out of sight of the road and wrapped a blanket around me. I used a book of matches that I'd picked up at a Seven-Eleven to light the fire. Once it was warm enough, I put the matches away and took out Hector Mendes' little toy. It wasn't exorcism in a box. It was the chance to spend a couple of hours alive.
The desert again. Arizona. Warm sand, cool air, and all the stars in the Universe. Chester sat down beside me.
"I'm afraid of how it ends," I told him. "Endings have always been bad for me. Relationships, plans, the farm up in Vermont. My life. Every fight I've ever been in, I've lost."
"You're not fighting alone this time," he said.
"I know. That scares me too."
Chester put his hand on mine.
"Remember what Katy wrote last year? About how no one ever has to be alone. She got it right, but she should have added something. No one ever has to be alone unless they choose to be, Mattie. Now we've gone a couple of years pretty much stuck with each other. You don't need to choose to face the end alone. I choose to face it with you. Our friends choose to face it with you."
He stood and smiled. "Peptalk over. You didn't come here to hear me talk. You came here to enjoy the desert and look at the stars. I'll just…"
I reached up and caught him by the wrist and pulled him down into my arms. Our lips came together and I kissed him until I had to breathe.
"I didn't come here to look at the stars," I said. "And I don't choose to be alone."
For all that Mendes was a bad man, I had to give him credit when it came to making magik. That little lighter with the Latin inscription burned until the sun came up.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2009