A "Luminations" Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
I was sitting in my apartment nursing a beer, flipping back and forth between my email and the blogs I follow, wishing for someone to entertain me, and generally being a poster-child for seasonal affective disorder. It was December 24th. I'd promised my dad I'd stop by later on, and I kept telling myself that I should get showered and dressed, but I wasn't quite getting to the point of moving my ass out of my chair. There was a pile of bills on my desk, and another stack of dead-end leads I'd been chasing in the Christina Kenney case. That would be the case that didn't pay, the one I'd been working on in the spare time that I seemed to have more and more of lately.
I thought that things would change after Antonio invited me to join his little society of occult warriors, or whatever they called themselves. I thought that having answers, knowing that all of the crazy shit was real, and having people who shared the experience would make things better. But Antonio wasn't returning my calls; the rumors that I was hearing hinted that his group was in the midst of some kind of internal political mess, and the leads that I had were drying up like, well, like my caseload. Early winter is always bad. It's the holiday season: Peace on earth and goodwill toward men is bad news for the private detective business. For all my cynicism, I know full well that people put their grudges on hold this time of year. They figure they'll just let it go until after the holidays. Then they'll haul the cheating bastard, or bitch as the case may be, into court and make them pay.
The phone rang and I picked up.
"Hello? Chess?" It was Melissa. She didn't give me time to wonder what made her suddenly decide we were on speaking terms again.
"Chess, I need your help. I got arrested."
Nothing says she still cares quite like you being the recipient of the only phone call she gets. But even as I was appreciating the poetic justice, I was getting up and reaching for my jacket and asking her for the details of where I could pick her up. I'm a sucker for a chance to help someone. Always have been.
She told me she had a shot at getting released today if I could get to the police station with some money before they went off shift for the holiday. I had less than an hour.
I drove to the bank a few blocks away and got a cash advance off a credit card and then did 75 through winding country roads to get to the police station in Londonderry. I got lucky. I was having a waking dream that I was gonna run a speed trap and they'd haul me in there in handcuffs to join Melissa for the holidays. As it turned out, the first cop I saw was the one at the front desk of the station, and he was all too happy to take my money. It was one less prisoner he'd have to deal with on Christmas Eve.
Melissa gave me a tired, tentative hug. We hadn't talked much since we split and it wasn't clear where the boundaries were. I just stood there until she was done and then handed her the slip to claim her stuff. I felt like a jerk doing that, and then I had to remind myself that she was the one who'd broken things off. If she wanted my affection, well, she could have made other decisions.
We barely said three words to each other on the way to my car. Even then I wasn't sure if she'd give me the story at all. I'd be able to put it together, of course. Putting people's stories together is part of my job. Melissa sat silently in the car for about five minutes, and then she told me everything.
"It's Mattie, Chess. I keep hearing her. I hear her trying to scream when he buried her in concrete. I had to do something. I thought it would stop if I did something. I went to see Richard Harrington in the nursing home. I don't know what I was thinking. I just signed myself in as a visitor and went up to his room. He was lying in bed, eyes open. Maybe he was on drugs or something, I don't know. I sat beside the bed and told him I knew what he'd done. I guess I thought it would be a catharsis. I'd speak the words to the senile old man and it would release me whatever obligation I have to Mattie."
"It didn't work?"
"No. I still hear her. I can hear her now. When I finished telling Harrington that I knew, I didn't think he was going to respond. He'd just been lying there staring up at the ceiling. I didn't know if he'd heard me. But when I got up to leave he grabbed my hand. Chess, he's not as sick as he looks, and he knows exactly what he did."
"Did he say anything to you?"
She shifted uncomfortably. "He said, 'Then someone's gonna have to shut you up, bitch.' A nurse came in right then and I just walked out."
"And this happened the day before yesterday?"
"Yes. They let us out of work at lunchtime today for Christmas Eve. When I got home the police were waiting at the door to my apartment building."
"You're charged with assaulting Richard Harrington?"
"I didn't do anything! I didn't even threaten him, just told him I knew what he'd done."
My phone rang. The dramatic effect of the theme from Dragnet was amusing enough that we both laughed. It was Jake Horner.
"Merry Christmas, Chess. You're a real pain in the ass, you know that?"
"People keep telling me that. Did you find anything out?" I'd called Jake on the way over to the police station. He knew some criminal defense attorneys and he had some pull with the local cops.
"Well, I've got Mark Dell on the case. It's simple assault. He should be able to get it dismissed, or at least down to something where she pays court costs and has to promise not to punch anyone in the nose for six months. That's the way these things usually work. What the hell was she thinking, anyway? I know damn well that Richard Harrington is scum, but he's like a hundred and six years old. And slapping him around in front of a nurse? Your ex needs some anger management."
"Wait a minute, Jake. What was that last part?"
"You didn't think the senile guy called it in do you? There's a witness. One of the nurses at the old folks home."
"The nurse pressed charges?"
"No, the charges come from Harrington, although the name on the papers is a proxy. It's not like he was in any condition to walk down to the police station and file a report. Let me see… It was filed by a relative of his."
"His son Thomas? The guy with the haunted house?"
"No. It's a niece of his. Christina Kenney."
December 26 is Saint Stephen's Day. In Irish tradition, Saint Stephen's Day, the Day of the Wren, is the day you finally get sufficiently fed up with your relatives visiting for the holidays and send them packing.
Melissa spent Christmas at my Dad's place. We drank a lot of eggnog, caught up each other on our lives, and avoided conversations involving Christina Kenney, Mattie Ives, and the topic known as "us." Dad watched the whole thing with curious amusement, and refrained from asking awkward questions. He's cool like that. I dropped Melissa off at her place on the morning of Saint Stephen's Day, went into my office and did research until late afternoon. It was Sunday so I'd have to wait a day to meet with Mark Dell or to talk to the weekday staff at Newcombe, but there was a hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning, and I wanted to make sure the charges against Melissa were dismissed before that hearing. Around four thirty I closed up shop and headed up to Manchester. I had a witness to intimidate.
Victoria Sanobel lived in a three family house in an old neighborhood in Manchester where college student apartments mixed with the city's growing Latino population. Ms. Sanobel was employed as a registered nurse for Golden Healthcare, Inc., the company that operated the Newcombe Manor nursing home facility.
There was a bodega across the street from the house and I stopped in and showed the owner my business card and a picture of Christina Kenney. I paid fifty bucks for a one dollar Jamaican meat patty and all of a sudden the owner could speak perfect English. Turns out Christina had visited Ms. Sanobel on the twenty-third of December, the day after Melissa's visit to the nursing home and the day before her arrest.
I walked back across the street, wondering what Christina had on the woman and what I was going to do about it. It would be easier if she'd been paid off. If she'd done it for money then the threat of perjury charges or even just my continued attention might be enough to convince her to back down. It probably wouldn't take much digging to find something she was caught up in that would lead to trouble with the law.
If she was being threatened it would be more of a problem. I wasn't sure what I'd do if it came to that, but the anger had been building in me for months. These people were messing with my life, hurting those I loved, and they seemed to be always just out of reach. That was going to change. I turned on the digital voice recorder in my pocket and knocked on Victoria Sanobel's door.
She opened it on the second knock.
"Come in, Mr. Hall. I've been expecting you."
She was small with black curly hair, dark eyes, and a short dress on that offered no protection from the cold air that entered the apartment with me. The place was small, cluttered and pagan, although I wasn't sure on the exact flavor of paganism that was being practiced. She led me over to her altar and motioned for me to look.
There were candles, stones of different types, a slim dagger that looked to be a dull-edged ceremonial piece, a couple of incense burners, and two sets of Polaroid photos. On the left were pictures of Antonio and what I presumed to be his crew. I recognized Heather and Anne, and there were some others I didn't know.
On the right side of the altar was a Polaroid picture of Melissa.
"I know why you're here, Chester Hall. I know the future. Your fate is…"
That was when I hit her. A left-handed backfist that started out in anger, just a slap. But halfway through the training kicked in and my feet shifted, my hips came around and my fist clenched. I cut the back of my hand on her teeth and she went down hard.
I was panting from the adrenaline and I took one step back to steady my breathing. She just stared up at me.
"If you could see the future," I said, "You would've ducked."
Now the surprise in her expression was being replaced by indignation, and for a second I thought this was going to turn into a fistfight, and that wouldn't help anyone. Not that I could complain. I'd taken the first shot.
"Fine. You've got thirty seconds to convince me you've got anything worth listening to."
She pulled herself to her feet. "No, Chester Hall. What I meant was that I don't see the future, I listen to it. Possibilities play in my consciousness like all the sounds of an orchestra."
She finally got to the point. "They are going after Antonio's group tonight. They are going after Melissa tonight. You need to choose who to save."
I almost hit her again, but figured I didn't have time.
"Christina set this up?" I asked.
She shook her head. "Things changed. Christina is not in charge anymore. Richard Harrington is."
"Richard Harrington is lying in a bed in a place where he needs a nurse like you just to wipe his ass."
She walked back toward the altar. "It is convenient if his enemies think that to be the case. Then they focus on others, like Christina. For her, the criminal charges were a way of sending you a message through your lover."
"Ex-lover," I pointed out.
She didn't contest the point. "Richard Harrington was signed out of Newcombe Manor Christmas morning for a holiday visit with family. He spent last night at his son's house. They had a problem with the septic system. They were very fortunate to have a contract with a company that is willing to work on Christmas."
"They dug her up." I hated being led around like this, but I was starting to get caught up in the story.
"Your lover got Harrington worried. Christina thought having her arrested would be enough, but Harrington could see past the problem of Melissa. The real problem has always been Mattie Ives. She must know some awful secrets to still be waiting to tell them so long after she died. Harrington is in charge now, and he is going to deal with Mattie Ives. The body was the first step. Melissa is the second. For the last measure, there are things he will need. Boston is the nearest city where he can get them, but for him to go there, he needs your friend Antonio out of the way. Thus your choice."
"Two roads diverged in a wood."
She looked puzzled.
I tried to keep my cool and shrugged casually. "It's a New Hampshire thing. What's your part in this? You're playing their game and feeding me information to stop them. What do you get playing both sides?"
"I can hear all the fates except my own. And my loyalty has always been to Christina, not to Richard Harrington. Now you must make your choice."
"No." I said. "Not yet. Come with me."
I took a step closer, ready to use force if it came to that. It didn't. She took a small bag from the altar and followed me to the door.
I handed her my car keys. "You drive."
"You can't save them all, Chester."
"I know. That's what you're coming along for."
She stopped at the car door. "I can't interfere."
"Of course you can, Victoria. You just don't know what the results are going to be. Which makes you just like everyone else. The road less taken, Victoria. It makes all the difference." I thought of trying more threats of force, but we were past that point. It was in her hands, and I just had to accept that.
She didn't say a thing, but she unlocked the car and got in. I told her to head for the Daniel Webster Highway and got out my cell phone to try to warn as many people as I could of what was coming.
I couldn't reach anyone directly. I called the police in Bedford and reported a break-in at Melissa's townhouse. Then I called the Boston police and reported a disturbance at Antonio's shop in the financial district. Victoria gave me some other addresses. She didn't know all of them, but I called in the ones she knew, giving them whatever story I could to get police out there. I didn't think it would help, but it was a start.
Victoria hauled ass all the way into Bedford. I had her pull over a block from the development where Melissa lived.
"Take the car. If you back out, leave it where I can find it. Take care of yourself." I shut the door without waiting for a reply.
"The tennis courts, Chess," she called after me, and then sped off.
I climbed a back fence and slipped in between two rows of townhouses. I could see police lights and flashlight beams near Melissa's place but I put my trust in Victoria's future-hearing and circled around to the tennis courts.
I damn near ran into the guy. He was big, but he was unsteady on his feet. I ducked a wild right, kicked the side of his knee and then clocked him in the temple. Down he went. My fist came back slick with blood, but not from my punch. Somebody had already opened this guy up pretty bad.
I took a second too long wondering at the meaning of that and the second guy barreled into me. He was big too and all his weight came down on me. He got to his feet and kicked at me and I covered up, and then he turned and ran.
I spotted Melissa slumped by the tennis court fence and half crawled, half staggered over to her. She was moving. Good sign.
She was clutching half of a broken field hockey stick in her hand.
"I'm here." She didn't look like she was bleeding, though one eye was swelling shut.
"I grabbed the stick and went out the back porch when I heard them coming in. Guy was tough, Chess. I had to break it on his head. Didn't see the other one until… Chess, he did something…"
I felt the rage coming to the surface again. "I'll kill those sons of bitches, so help me…"
I was still cursing Harrington and Christina Kenney and the whole lot. Melissa grabbed my hand.
"Chess. Shut up and listen."
"I don't hear anything." The guy I'd knocked down was still out of it and the cops must have been checking in another direction.
"I don't hear anything either."
I looked back at her, trying to make the connection.
She made it for me. "They weren't after me. They were after Mattie. And they took her."
I had only a few seconds to contemplate that before the police flashlights finally turned toward us.
Story and image by Rick Silva, Copyright 2006