A "Luminations" Story
Start at the beginning of the Luminations series
I got a rental car and drove to Boston by myself on Monday. Mark Dell had strongly advised Melissa not to leave the state of New Hampshire. He was pretty confident of getting the charges against her dismissed at Tuesday's court appearance, but he was playing by the book and he didn't want to take chances. Besides, Melissa had another police matter to deal with. She spent most of the day Monday at Bedford police headquarters filling out a report on the break-in and assault that happened Sunday.
Melissa wasn't telling the police everything she knew. That was on my advice, not her lawyer's. From the looks of things, we were going to be spending quite a bit of time sitting around waiting for our turn at the county courthouse. I didn't like it, and not just because there were better things we could be doing with our time. What bothered me was that anyone who might be keeping an eye on the situation would have a very good idea of where to find us for the next few days.
I did my time in the rush-hour traffic at the Big Dig and drove past Boston and over to North Quincy, where I parked and caught a Red Line train to South Station. I went over to the newsstand and bought copies of the Globe, the Herald, the Patriot Ledger, and a couple of other local papers and sat in the concourse with a cup of coffee, looking over the police blotters. There had been a gang-related homicide over the weekend, and someone had vandalized a bunch of SUVs parked up in a nice neighborhood in West Roxbury. Vice cops caught a schoolteacher soliciting a prostitute in a sting operation in the combat zone, and a BU student had been assaulted walking back to her dorm late Saturday night. This was Christmas weekend. Peace on Earth, my ass.
But there was nothing to suggest that things had come to open warfare between Antonio Baglio's chantry and Richard Harrington's coterie. Antonio would have gotten on my case for throwing around archetypes like that, but the way my work had been going lately, gamespeak was sometimes the most effective tool for describing things.
There were no reports of break-ins or violence directed at Antonio or any allies of his that I knew of, but that only meant that nothing had made the papers. I left South Station and walked to Antonio's magic and joke shop in the financial district, and I wasn't pleased with what I found. There was a closed sign on the door to Questions, there was no answer at the buzzer, and one of the display racks inside was leaning up against the window at an odd angle. Antonio's shop is meticulously neat. I wished I could get a better look in there, but I knew that I wasn't going to get in without calling the police, and that would require more explanation than I was willing to give.
I retraced my steps from the day I'd spent in Boston with Antonio, the day he'd let me in on the conspiracy. It didn't do me any good. I saw no sign of the woman with the pushcart who Antonio had spoken to in Downtown crossing. I went over to the comic book store in Brookline, and the girl working there knew Heather and Anne, but she hadn't seen them in more than a week. I left her my business card and she told me to have them call if I ran into them first because their comic subscriptions, probably heavy on the Vertigo books, were starting to pile up. I was starting to suspect that I wasn't going to run into them. Not anytime soon. Maybe not at all.
I went up to Cambridge and wandered around for the rest of the afternoon. I was grasping at straws at this point, but I figured these people were nerds, so maybe they'd hang out at the usual nerd locations. If nothing else, I could ask a few questions and maybe get someone's attention. That's one of the advantages of being a private investigator. People tend to remember when you pay them an official visit.
I drove back north tired and sore with nothing to show for my efforts. I had just pulled into Melissa's development when my "Theme from Dragnet" ringtone sounded. The caller ID displayed as Allston-Brighton hospital, and I realized that there was one person I'd totally forgotten about: The BU student, Michael, who I'd helped Antonio and his friends get out from under the influence of Christina Kenney's crew.
"Michael?" I asked.
It wasn't him. It was Victoria Sanobel. I hadn't been able to reach her since she'd taken off for Boston on Sunday night, trying to warn Antonio about what was going down.
"I'm sorry I didn't call sooner, Chester. I'm in the hospital. I was shot."
"Jesus Christ. Are you all right?"
She paused, as if she'd never considered the question, then answered "It wasÖ unexpected. But yes, I guess I'm all right. They say my condition is stable."
"Gone underground. With Heather. I warned as many as I could, Chester. Anne didnít make it. Most of the others did. They are hiding now."
Fuck. I'd only known Anne for one afternoon, but she was a decent person. The loss of her hurt, but more than that it scared me. Anne was smart and tough. Not enough of either, apparently.
Do you know what Harrington and Kenney are doing now?" I asked, trying to keep focused on the things I could still do something about.
"Waiting. They can't deal with Mattie Ives with a bullet. They need to do a ritual, and they're waiting for the right time, the time when the energies are strongest."
"How much time have we got?" I asked.
"Until the veils are thin." She'd lowered her voice to a whisper. I shifted around trying to get better reception on my cell.
"Damn it, Victoria, don't make me have to kick your ass! Plain English, and cut the cryptic shit!"
"First Night." She said.
"Okay. Better. Can you be more specific?"
"No. I'm sorry."
It would have to do.
"Okay." I said. "What about you? Can you get somewhere safe?"
"The hospital will discharge me tomorrow. I will fly to San Juan. I'll be beyond their reach there. I'm sorry I can't do more for you."
"Forget it." I said. "You got shot. That was enough. Get yourself safe and send me a postcard."
"I like it, Chester. I was afraid I wouldn't."
"You like what, Victoria?"
"Not knowing what is going to happen. Goodbye, Chester." She hung up.
Court on Tuesday went about as well as could be expected. Mark Dell worked out exactly the deal with the assistant DA that he'd been hoping for. The charges against Melissa were dismissed, contingent on no further arrests for six months, and Melissa paid a hundred bucks in court costs. Christina Kenney didn't show up. Neither did the prosecution's other witness, Victoria Sanobel. I was hoping Victoria was safely relaxing on a beach by then.
On Thursday, the guy who had been arrested for assaulting Melissa was released on bail. He worked for the construction company that Richard Harrington had founded years back, the company whose equipment had been used to bury Mattie Ives alive, and whose machines had dug the body out of its concrete tomb on Christmas night a few days back. I had word from Jake Horner that it was Harrington Construction money paying the guy's bail. Nice benefits package. The trial date was set for next July.
Things were still awkward with Melissa, and we wasted time as the week wore on sitting silently, trying to make small talk, or going over the same minor details again and again. It wasn't until Thursday night that we finally realized that we needed to sort some things out. We had dinner at a fried fish place in Merrimack, and ended up back at my place on the pretext of trying to search around on the internet for some ideas about what Harrington and Kenney were up to.
We got in the door and Melissa didn't even wait until I had my coat off.
"Chess, we need to talk. We're out of time."
"Actually, we have about twenty-eight hours." I tried to make light of the situation, but I was worried too. Melissa just glared at me.
"Okay." I said. "You're right. Whatever is happening is going down tomorrow. Are we going to do something about it or not?"
Melissa can be impulsive, but she considered her answer to the question at hand carefully for a minute while she sat down and I hung my jacket up.
"I think I need to. Mattie needs my help." She said finally.
"Mattie is dead."
"Okay, I guess that's not entirely relevant." I admitted. "So, we need to find these people, or whatever they are, and screw up what they're planning to do to Mattie. Let's leave aside the question of how we find them for now. I'm good at finding people. It's what I do. How do we stop them when we find them?"
"Breaking a field hockey stick over that guy's head stopped him pretty nicely last time around."
"Yeah," I said, "But that guy was a hired thug. Strictly C-team. Besides, we need to worry about Mattie."
"They're using containers. They trapped her in one when they had me down. I'm sorry, Chess. I didn't get a good look at the thing. It was small enough to fit in the guy's hand."
"It's okay," I told her. "You were sorta busy kicking ass at the time."
I got up and lit the stove and got out Melissa's favorite tea. I hadn't touched the stuff since she broke up with me.
"So, break the container, then?" I asked. "You realize that this could kill her, you know?"
"Like you said Chess, she's dead. I just don't want her trapped in their power. If setting her free means she rests in peace, so much the better."
"Okay, then all we have to do is find them and break the thing. I have some idea of where and I have a really good notion as to when. Victoria mentioned that they're relying on the thinning of the veil between this world and the supernatural one."
I poured the hot water into Melissa's mug, opened up a can of Mountain Dew for myself, and came back to the kitchen table.
"I thought you didn't believe in this new age stuff, Chess." Melissa tried a sip of her tea, made a face as she burned the tip of her tongue, and set the mug down to cool.
"Let's just say I'm willing to suspend disbelief. Look, if they are relying on the general energy of the night, then it has to be somewhere that has a lot of energy. So that means, downtown Boston, right in the middle of the First Night celebration. And if they want to time things so that they hit the high point of all of that energy, then there's really only one time that works. The stroke of midnight."
Melissa nodded. "Ring out the old. Yeah. Makes sense. They're gonna put Melissa into that box of theirs for good right as they count down to 2006."
I raised my soda can. "May old acquaintance be forgot."
Then we got to work making plans.
Boston's First Night celebration is the oldest in the United States, dating back to the 1970's and the idea of a celebrating New Year's Eve with art rather than alcohol. Some might call that a contradiction of terms, but when I went to First Night in Boston with my buddies in college we had a great time, though not always an entirely sober one.
Melissa had never been. She handled the driving while I pored over the maps and program notes I'd printed out from the First Night website, looking for some kind of recognizable clue or pattern. By the time we were crossing the state line into Massachusetts, I believed I'd found a decent lead.
First Night is a big event. The afternoon activities are spread all over the city, with museums and schools participating in a kid-friendly program that culminates in a masked parade up Boylston Street around five in the evening, followed by an early round of fireworks at seven for the family crowd who want to get home early. Then the real revelry gets underway with concerts, art exhibits, and film festivals. It all ends with fireworks over Boston Harbor at the stroke of midnight. You buy a button to support the event and the button gets you into all the concerts and shows.
We were looking for a place that was near the center of the action, a place where the energy would be running high. It also had to afford some kind of privacy so that the ritual, whatever it entailed, could be set up. We'd eliminated Don Bosco Technical High School in the South End. Too isolated. We'd eliminated the Boston Common. Too exposed. And when we'd first looked over the program, we eliminated the Hynes Convention Center because the place was so packed with events that it would be a complete mob scene.
When I took a closer look in the program, I decided that we needed to reconsider the Hynes. The Hynes Convention Center was originally called simply the Hynes Auditorium, and indeed, the original auditorium is still part of the larger complex, occupying the third floor. The Auditorium was where some of the bigger concert events would be taking place, and I hadn't thought much of it until I noticed the section of last-minute corrections that I'd downloaded from the website.
The events in the auditorium had been relocated because the room was closed for renovations.
"I don't have time to check this," I told Melissa, "But just suppose the contract for renovating that room went to Harrington Construction."
She nodded. "We need to get in there."
I smiled. "No problem. I spent five days combing every inch of the Hynes Convention Center the summer before last."
"You had a case there?"
I shook my head. "It was the venue for the World Science Fiction Convention."
"Right. I should've guessed. So, what first?"
"Leave the car, take the green line into the city, and buy buttons. Hey, did you know that they have a nondenominational service at the Arlington Street Church from eleven to midnight?"
"I think I saw that in the program. What does it have to do with anything?" She asked.
"I was just looking at the name of that event. It's called 'Watch, Wait, Listen'. That's what we'll be doing a lot of this evening."
I was wrong about the Auditorium. It was the first bad decision I made that night.
We walked through the halls, taking in shows and looking for a way into the auditorium room. The halls were filled with screaming face-painted kids sporting fairy wings or jester hats and equipped with an ear shattering array of New Years noisemakers, which they had no intention of waiting until the actual New Year to use. Inside the ballrooms and exhibit halls we caught glimpses of jugglers and unicyclists, even the occasional juggling unicyclist. There was kids' folk music being played on banjo and accordion in one room and an anime film festival in the next.
Melissa had to pull me away from that last one.
The problem was that the whole third floor was blocked off, and there were security guards posted at the escalators. The back stairways had fire doors that could be opened going down, but not up. I found a service elevator, but again, it was right behind a security booth. We wasted several hours walking around that building looking for a way to sneak up to the third floor before I finally found one of the back stairways that had the fire door propped open by a big slab of sheet rock that was sitting there waiting for construction to resume in on the second of January.
We made our way up the stairs to discover a darkened hall filled with dust, lumber, drywall, and electrical wiring on big spools.
There were no bad guys, no ritual. Nothing.
Melissa sat down on a stack of boards, looking defeated.
"We're screwed, Chess. They could be doing this in someone's apartment for all we know. It could be anywhere in the whole city. Damn it! Mattie's counting on us and we just fucked it up."
I just sat next to her and got out a little flashlight I'd brought with me and pulled the maps and program books back out.
"I'm sorry. I thought this was it. We can keep looking. Maybe she can call to you if you get close enough."
Melissa shook her head. "I donít think distance matters. If she could call to me, she would have. I think she's too weak. Or something is stopping her."
"Okay. Let me think. We've been walking in those crowds for hours. Won't kill us to sit here and have a little peace and quiet. God, Melissa, I'm so tired."
It took me a few minutes to get my eyes to focus back on the papers in front of me. The answer was there somewhere, but I had no idea where to start. I found the main schedule grid and started scanning through the events, trying to figure out which ones would even still be open at midnight. There was the service in the Arlington Street Church, but we'd talked that over earlier. We'd both come to the same conclusion: Wrong kind of energy.
The oldies concert on the floor below us would still be going on, so would the contra dancing below that. But I still thought they needed a private space. Someplace close to the action, but not directly in the thick of it. This room seemed perfect for that, but it wasn't the right place. Where else?
At midnight there would be crowds at the harbor lining up to see the fireworks. It would be rowdy, with people coming out of the bars over by Quincy Market. But the fireworks themselves didn't contribute to the energy. It was the people. The collective consciousness. I shook my head at that thought, wondering how I'd become a new age energy expert in the space of a week.
There were some other outdoor activities: The Christmas lights and decorations on the Common, the ice sculptures at Copley Square, the laser light show on the Custom House Tower. But they were all too out in the open.
That was when I remembered.
"Melissa! I've got it!"
I shone the light on the page detailing the outdoor activities and pointed to one a box indicating a special attraction.
Melissa sat next to me and read the passage. "Renowned ice carver Jan Ingram will direct the construction of the largest ice sculpture ever built: An incredible walk-through fairytale castle in Copley Plaza. Note that due to construction time constraints, this exhibit will be opened to the public sometime after 11 PM. Check our website or the Copley Plaza information booth for details as they become available."
"We saw it when we got off the subway. It's boarded up until they open it." I said.
Melissa nodded. "Right in the middle of the crowds, and the square will be mobbed at midnight with people watching the fireworks and then lining up to walk through. It's perfect."
I got up.
"Chess?" Melissa caught my arm.
I turned to face her.
"You don't need to do this, Chess. I'm connected to Mattie, and I have to try to help her, but if you get hurtÖ"
"Fuck it. Two of us have a better chance than one."
She nodded. "Okay. Let's stop them."
There was a cop by the entrance to the plywood barricades and another at one of the corners. We circled around the enclosure and spotted a newspaper vending machine close to the fence that we could use to climb over. The ice spires of the fairytale castle shone above the fence with reflections of the Christmas lights strung up at the Prudential Mall across the street.
Melissa kept watch while I got us armed. I shifted my .38 to a belt holster and slipped a pepper spray can into my jacket pocket. I passed a retracting baton and a pepper spray to Melissa and then boosted her up onto the newspaper machine. Melissa has been an athlete all her life, and she went over the wall smooth and quick. I followed as quick as I could and considerably less smoothly.
I hit the ground on the other side, slipped on the ice and landed on my ass.
"Fine." I grumbled. There was light inside the castle and we could see figures moving in there, but the ice distorted everything, and it was impossible to make out details. We were in a narrow space between the plywood and a solid wall of ice that went all the way around the structure.
I signaled for quiet, got to my feet and crept to the corner, then motioned for Melissa to follow. We made our way toward the front and came to another corner. I got a look at two guys standing in front of a tunnel leading into the middle of the castle. Fortunately there wasn't much in the way of lights at the back or sides of the structure so we could keep in the shadows.
I backed Melissa a little way off and knelt to whisper to her.
"Circle the other way. We'll mace these guys and get in fast. Those cops should be in here quick once the noise starts. All we need to do is take out the container or fix it so they can't do the ritual and then keep from getting killed long enough for the cops to come in and haul us off in handcuffs. New Years Eve is a hell of a bad night to go to jail, but we're better off spending the night in a cell smelling puke than ending up dead, right?"
"Right." She nodded and moved back the way we had come from. I waited, starting to feel the cold. It was impossible to stay warm in a tunnel of ice, and I shifted from one foot to the other, trying to keep from going numb.
Finally I saw Melissa moving toward the two men from the other side. I wasn't completely sure, but the guy closer to her looked like the same guy we'd tangled with at Melissa's townhouse when they took Mattie.
His scream when she got him with the pepper spray was music to my ears.
The guy in front of me got his hands up to shield his face when I went to spray him, but that was just fine because I was already in close and before he thought to do anything else I sent my knee into his groin as hard as I could manage with the slippery footing. It was hard enough. He went down crying like a kid.
Melissa shoved the big guy who'd taken a facefull of pepper spray and he slipped on the ice and went spinning into his buddy. We dodged around them and headed into the ice palace.
I saw the container first. It was made of ice, of course. It was impossible to miss: A polished globe sculpted on a pedestal in the central chamber with colored beams of light focussed and reflected from angled shards of ice in the vaulted ceiling above.
I got a real good look at it. Good enough that I didn't see Christina Kenney until she hit me. She came from my left and got me in the jaw, her fist making a dull snapping sound as her leather glove met my skin. My back hit a wall. Christina is six foot and at least two fifty, and I could tell she knew how to throw a punch.
I ducked the next one and tried to put my shoulder into her, but she didn't budge. Instead, she twisted her body and I lost my footing on the ice and went down hard. The bitch was wearing metal cleats on her boots. No wonder I couldn't budge her. She stomped down at me with them, and the spikes tore into the leather of my jacket, and she drove her weight onto my shoulder, pinning me down on the ice.
Things slowed down a second. Christina was putting all of her weight on me, keeping me face-first on the ice, and I could see Melissa struggling with Richard Harrington over by the ice-globe. Harrington wasn't the feeble old man he appeared to be, that was sure, but Melissa was stronger. She was twisting his arm, forcing him down, and I tried reaching for my gun. No good. It was wedged between me and the ice.
Melissa gave me a look and slid the baton across the ice to me, and I managed to grab it, twist my body around and swing it up. It connected with Christina's ankle and a let loose with a second blow that got her knee. She limped backward and reached into her pocket. I went for the .38 and we were both fumbling when Melissa charged across the chamber and tackled Christina.
I heard Melissa yell for me to go for Mattie, and I moved toward the ice globe as fast as I could manage on the slick wet floor. Harrington somehow grabbed my leg and tripped me up just short of reaching for it. He dug his nails into my neck and got a grip on the gun, trying to pry it away.
Suddenly his weight shifted on me and I could see back to the other side of the chamber. Christina had Melissa by the hair. She drove Melissa's head face-first into the chamber wall. It hit with a dull wet sound, and Melissa slid to the floor, her face painting a red streak down the ice.
I snarled at Harrington, wrenched the barrel of the pistol to his head and blew his brains out. His fingernails were still digging into me and I had to drag his corpse halfway up the pedestal. The gun was still tangled in Harrington's bony fingers and I could hear Christina crunching across the ice to get to me, so I just swung my left hand at the ice globe with everything I had.
I felt the ice shatter, felt something like an electric shock, and went to turn to defend myself, and got a good look at my own body falling back down onto the ice.
Everything went white.
She let me watch them take Melissa away. From the way the paramedics were talking it sounded like Melissa would pull through. A concussion, broken nose and cheekbones, reconstructive surgery probably. I saw it all from the back of the crowd with the hood of the jacket she'd taken from Richard Harrington pulled tight over my head to hide my own bruises. We were lucky. The jacket had come off when he'd been struggling with Melissa, so it didn't have parts of his head smeared all over it.
I fought her for control all the way up to the Arlington Street Church, but I can't say for certain which of us made the decision to walk in and sit down in that back pew.
I donít know what happened to Christina Kenney, but we will find her eventually. I'm too tired to care when.
I'm too tired to care about much anymore, and for the first time this year, I don't need to care.
Mattie Ives can do that for me.
She has plans. There's a safe deposit box with a very large sum of Richard Harrington's money, and she knows the codes to open it. There's a list of people who had something to do with her death or the deaths of her friends, and she's been waiting for a long time to get what she needed to make them pay for their crimes.
We're sitting in the back pew of the Arlington Street Church at a service called "Watch, Wait, Listen", and I'm thinking of all the people who I've watched get hurt or get killed in the last year, and I'm thinking that watching and waiting and listening sounds like a pretty good plan right about now.
The body is Mattie's now, and I really should do something about that, but I'm tired and they're counting down to the New Year, and I have no idea when she's going to decide to get up and walk out of here.
I donít know what's going to happen next, and I think maybe I like that.
Story and photo by Rick Silva, Copyright 2006