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Authors: Dennis Liggio

The Lost and the Damned

BOOK: The Lost and the Damned
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The Lost and the Damned

By Dennis Liggio

 

 

Copyright © 2014 by Dennis Liggio

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

 

www.dennisliggio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Kelly, for now and forever.

 

 

One

 

The worst part is when the darkness spoke to me. When something so black, so impenetrably dark calls you by name, there is only fear.

The wind was roaring that night on top of that pyramid where I stood next to a killer, listening to a lost girl channel a thing that lurks on the other side of nightmares. Its voice sheared through me, taking all the warmth I had left. 

That was the worst part.  That one moment out of this whole mess.  Just that, despite everything else I saw. That was the true horror of Bellingham for me.  Not the monsters, not the Army, not the murders, not even the malice that was born there. The moments when my life was in danger were nothing compared to when the dark spoke.

When her eyes went black and her voice filled with darkness, I knew I was marked by it.  That blackness flowed up like ink from a dark void.  And when it called my name, I was nothing before it.

I wish I had never gone there. I'm sorry to admit it, because Katie would still be lost if I didn't go.  But I wish I had never gone there. I wish I had never gone through that labyrinth and found myself lost in someone else's dream.  Sure, I got to play hero - I even got to rescue the girl!  But now I know there's something out there, something waiting for me.

So I'll tell you my story, I'll tell you the story of Katie Vanders, of Sommersfield, of Bellingham, of monsters and madness, of the birth of a god.  What you remember about this all is up to you.  But I'll always remember my worst moment, the one that still haunts me in the dreams, the one that wakes me up in sweat.  I'll always remember, because the darkness called my name.

And it said that we'd meet again.

 

Where is Katie Vanders?

That’s the question that all of America would be asking, if they only knew to ask it. Walking down the street, the average person is bombarded with pictures of her on billboards. Her voice is the only thing you hear on radio, and cable TV is playing the crap out of her video. But dig a little deeper and you’d find that people have begun asking questions. Astute fans have begun noticing idiosyncrasies. The internet is rife with theories, explanations, and whispers.

What have they noticed? Simple: where’s the girl in question?  No one has seen her.  There hasn’t been video of her outside of her music videos, she hasn’t given any interviews, and her band SVMM has not played live even a single time since they became popular. The public is almost there, the question is just beginning to form on their lips.

Where is Katie Vanders?

It’s a question that could go national.  Her legions of rabid fans are more than simply demanding. Her band SVMM is hot. They are the
It
thing.  They are the thing the kids are all talking about. They are the one your niece, nephew, son, or daughter likes. The one they play loudly in their room and espouse total loyalty for, even though they had never heard the band a few weeks ago. Yes, that band. They’re big. Three singles have dominated the charts. They are The Band, so everyone wants them to tour.  Venues would be booked, tickets would be sold, fans would swoon.  There is money to be made.  There’s just one problem.

Where is Katie Vanders?

Somewhere in the world there is a missing young woman. Did she check into Betty Ford? Was fame too much, making her hide out in a shack in the wilderness? Is she living out another life under an assumed identity, smirking every time she hears her songs on the radio? Was she kidnapped, murdered, lost in amnesia, or worse? Nobody knows.

Where is Katie Vanders?

I now know the answer to that question, but it came with a price, a very expensive price. It involved plunging deep into the Hell-on-Earth that is the Beast, a labyrinth so foul that I still wake up in the middle of the night sweating and reassuring myself I made it out of there alive.  Sometimes I feel scared that this is all an illusion, another room within that insane maze.  In weaker moments, there’s a thought that jabs at the back of my brain and I worry if it’s true: what if I never left the Beast?

 

Let’s start at the beginning of the story. Of all the people who could be asking where Katie is, there was one entity that shouldn’t be asking it. That same entity should be scoffing at the question, their PR glossing over the issue or annihilating all doubt whenever asked. This entity should know the answer even if the question were never asked. The problem was that they didn’t know. They had no idea where she was, and that scared them. It scared them completely, from CEO all the way down to accounting.   Every one of them privileged to know the secret was seeing a loss of dollars wherever they looked. Their billion dollar girl was missing and they had no clues. That frantic and clueless entity?

Her record company.

That’s where I came in. The people at Intersperse Records were not idiots. They had a prime source of revenue that went missing and they wanted it back. But they couldn’t tell the police and start a multistate manhunt. There was no way that wouldn’t leak to the news. The last thing they needed was for the fan on the street to suddenly realize that Katie was missing. While the publicity would give an initial lift to record sales, the longer she was missing, the greater the band’s fame would suffer. They needed the public to think that new albums were forthcoming. If the public remained ignorant, Intersperse could find every piece of scratchy demo tape footage that ever existed and remix it into “newly recorded concert bootlegs”. But they could stretch things only so far without her, not unless they staged a very risky and unpopular band split. This meant they needed someone to find her.

It’s easy for me to spill the beans now, but finding out about the missing girl wasn’t easy. It was a heavily guarded corporate secret, and nobody found it out without getting under the yoke. I had to slog through pages and pages of Non Disclosure Agreements, contracts, and binding terms. There was enough legal paper that they could sue me into annihilation. They had me sign it all before I even found out what the job was or how much they were paying. I wasn’t alone, of course. Intersperse Records had contacted private detectives and bounty hunters in every major city, had them sign identical paperwork before giving them the same offer. It wasn’t a working offer, it wasn’t a contract. No retainer, nothing upfront, no reimbursement for expenses or per diem.  Just a single flat fee upon successful completion. Half a million dollars to locate Katie Vanders. Winner take all.

Not that any of us took it as a contest. Business is business. But half a million dollars is a lot more business than most of us get for a single job.  And in some ways, it seemed easy. We didn’t have to bring her in, though I’m sure most bounty hunters would have tried anyway. We only had to locate her so that the corporate handlers could bring her back alive. On paper, it looked easy. But if it were so easy, they wouldn’t be offering half a million to who knows how many people. And as it turned out, this wasn’t an easy job.  Half a million dollars was not enough to go face to face with insanity.

But first, let me introduce myself. My name is John Keats and as you may have guessed, I’m a private detective. Now I know you have one of two impressions in your head from when I said “private detective”, and I’m going to tell you right now that it’s wrong. If you’re in the first category, your mind rushed to film noir. You thought of Bogart and Maltese Falcons, black and white grainy film, slow burning cigarettes, seductive femme fatales, wharf-side double-crosses and the misery you find at the bottom of a bottle. My life is nothing like Raymond Chandler; it’s neither as dark nor glamorous. If you’re in the second category, your mind rushed to sleaze, and I don’t blame you. Most private detectives are pretty sketchy. They’re people who bend the law at their convenience, preferring to avoid the law when possible. Blackmail is their side-business. I know detectives like this. I try to avoid them.

So where was Katie Vanders? The big question became my question.  Finding out the situation was just my entry into a very exclusive club.  Even with the good fortune of having this job dropped in my lap, I was no closer to finding her than anyone else. I had my resources, but I was no savant detective. I wasn’t given much to go on. I had the dossier of photocopied documents from Intersperse. I had a scheduled flight to Chicago to see Vanders’ apartment and meet with the other members of SVMM. And those were the only leads I was given. This left me hitting the internet to do credit checks, name traces, and any other type of creative cyber stalking I could think of.

The longer I looked into it, the more I realized this was going to be an annoying job.  If I had never had the dream that night, I would never have gotten anywhere. Without the dream, I would never have gotten to meet the strange girl that was Katie Vanders.  Without the dream, maybe I would never have known the horrors that occurred within the Beast.

 

Let me talk about my dreams first. Most of the time, my dreams are completely normal – or as normal as dreams get. They’re involuntary, wild, and utterly meaningless. But there are other times, rare times, when things are different. Once in a blue moon, I have one of the special dreams. These dreams aren’t vague like normal dreams. Instead, they’re clear, intensely clear. Moreover, without fail, they’re meaningful. The level of meaning is usually up to me to discern. Sometimes only in hindsight do I realize the message in the dream. I usually try to think them over after I have them, retreading the same ground for anything relevant to my own experience. On a few occasions I made a breakthrough on a job thanks to dreaming. I found a stolen piece of jewelry after I dreamed a dog brought it to me in a shoebox – turns out it was in a Hush Puppy shoebox in the bottom of a closet.

Why are these dreams meaningful? What do they mean? Why are they special? All good questions. I have answers to none of them. One friend in college told me I was prescient: in my dreams I am actually telling the future. No lottery numbers in my dreams as of yet. A girl from where I did tech support told me that the dreams were messages from angels, fairies or UFOs, who all knew more than us lowly humans. These beings are trying to tell me something… for some reason. Someone in my college philosophy class told me that it was actually my subconscious processing all the data I had and giving me an answer. Those are all possible answers. I’m just not sure I believe any of them. I just know that I have special dreams and that when I have one, I should pay attention to it.

This dream was one of those special dreams. I’m not sure how to explain the feeling, but I feel very different when I am in the dream. I have heard of people having what’s called a “lucid dream”; one where they are completely conscious and in control. In these dreams, I am not fully conscious and lucid, but neither am I dragged along like in most dreams. I’m usually pretty passive and I’m brought places or shown things. It’s like that Bob Dylan video where he’s just showing cue card after cue card of words (or, for the younger crowd, those INXS or Bloodhound Gang videos where they do the same thing). Images and facts are presented to me. If I’m lucky, I make the leap and understand what it means. Most of the time I’m unlucky and I end up spending days on end distracted, trying to figure it out.

In this dream I was sitting in a smoky bar. I could tell it was an average neighborhood bar of reddish-brown wood, a not-too loud jukebox, and a bunch of everyday Joes just trying to grab a beer. I sat at the bar, perched on a stool watching two men have a conversation. There was a song on the jukebox and a football game playing on the television, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than their conversation.

“So tell me about the girl in question.”

“She was totally mental! Should be in a hospital!”

“Really? That bad a date? I figured she’d be fun since she’s a star.”

“Nah, she was practically catatonic! Totally boring.”

“Damn, you almost shouldn’t have picked her up! Should have stayed home and watched TV.”

BOOK: The Lost and the Damned
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