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Authors: David C. Cassidy

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Velvet Rain - A Dark Thriller (9 page)

BOOK: Velvet Rain - A Dark Thriller
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She seemed to shrink. She trembled as if she might wither and die, and Kain feared she just might.

“Just five minutes.”


Ray.

Already the grin had soured. “You owe me.”

“I don’t owe you a damn thing.”

“Miss?” It was a short man in a booth who sat across from the young couple. He motioned with his cup.

The waitress grabbed a pot of coffee from the burner behind her. She used the counter as a buffer, purposely taking the long way round, but her husband echoed her steps, cutting her off at the end.

“Jesus, Ray.” She waved the stench of whiskey from the stale breath in front of her. “It’s not even eight-thirty.”

“Five minutes.”


Miss.


Com
ing.” She turned, her eyes fighting bravely. She tried to brush past him, but Ray Bishop stabbed out a hand and snared the arm holding the coffee.

Lynn Bishop straightened, stiffening like a corpse. The steaming pot slipped from her grasp and struck the floor, exploding in a shower of glass and hot black liquid. It singed her leg, and she winced as she tried to pull free. She kept silent, but if she had been anywhere else, she likely would have screamed.

“… Please let me go.”

Ray Bishop did. Slowly, most unwillingly, but he did.

Everyone in the place had been doing their best—which wasn’t very good, or very easy—to mind their own business, but that now seemed an impossible chore. Ray Bishop, the mechanic who would be King of the Idiots, had crash-landed on their little world, and whether he liked it or not had everyone’s attention. All eyes were focused on him, and the concern seemed to unnerve him.

The cook, an ample woman who just had to be Rosa (she sure looked like a Rosa), barreled out from the swings. She had solid meat on her, stood a stocky five-one in her saffron apron. One arm was planted firmly on her right hip. In her left hand she held a solid wooden spoon, brandishing it like a club.

“What’s goin’ on here?
Lynn?
You okay, honey-child?”

Ray Bishop cast her a look of stone that told her to keep her nose out of it. But Rosa of the Roadside had other ideas.

“You get outta here, Ray Bishop! Right now, you hear?”

“Just talkin’ to my wife … right, baby?”

“Is there a problem?”

Ray Bishop whipped round. The man had cold hard eyes. A long, wormy scar ran along his left cheek. It looked as if it had been carved at birth. He gave the drifter a look up and down. A look of
Fuck off.

“Get
out
of here, Ray. Just leave me alone.
Please.

Kain stood at the register at the far end of the counter. He didn’t know what the man’s next move was, but if there was one thing Brikker had taught him, it was bite the bear before the bear bites
you.

“The hand,” he said, “is quicker than the eye.”

Ray Bishop turned again, and suddenly there was bite in his bark. “Shut the fuck up.”

Kain started toward him with sound steps. Ray Bishop lunged to meet him, and in the next instant, he had him all turned around and on his knees crying for mercy. The King was still loving it up tenderly on the jukebox when Kain cranked the man’s arm a second time, drawing it higher up his back. The mechanic shrieked like a schoolgirl.

“The lady doesn’t want to talk.”

“Go to hell, you sonofa—
arrrrrgh!

Kain relaxed the pressure, just a little. He leaned in close to the man’s ear. “Don’t make me break it.”

He waited a moment, and when he was almost sure the man had had enough, eased him up.

The man stood boiling, cradling his arm. He looked like he might charge again.

“I wouldn’t,” Kain said.

Ray Bishop seethed. He turned to his wife, who had shrunk behind the counter to a safer distance. Her fear had faded to subdued terror, if there was such a thing.

“I’ll be around … don’t you doubt it.”

The mechanic eyed the drifter when he said the last part, held a long, burning glance there … and left.

~

A gnawing quiet lingered after Elvis died. No one wanted to talk, and no one did. The waitress cleaned the mess, the sweeping of glass and the mopping of spilt coffee the only sounds in the place besides a small din behind the swing doors. She hadn’t said a word to Kain after the incident, she had been too upset, and he had returned to his booth. He was gazing out the window as twilight came, thinking about Ray Bishop when she came over.

“I hope you’re all right.”

She nodded anxiously. “Thank you. But you shouldn’t—I mean—you didn’t have to do that.”

“Neither did he.”

“That’s Ray,” she sighed. “Just a loose cannon sometimes. He … it doesn’t matter.” She seemed more uncomfortable now than when she first walked over. “Um … can I get you anything else? Coffee?”

“… Just the bill.”

“Sure … sure thing.” She scribbled on the check, and then, clearly frustrated with her mistake, scratched out the total she had summed. She scribbled again, then tore the slip from the pad and placed it face down on the table. She turned to go, but he stopped her.

“Hang on … there is one thing.”

Jesus. What was he thinking? She was on the verge of tears. She didn’t want to talk, she wanted to run in the back and have a good cry. She hadn’t had time to think about what had happened, hadn’t had the chance to ask herself, for the ten-thousandth time, why she had married Ray Bishop in the first place. No, she’d had to clean the mess, the mess that wouldn’t have happened if she’d had a better head on her shoulders, and now she was fearful of coming apart.

“Never mind … sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “What is it?”

“You wouldn’t … you wouldn’t know any places around here for rent, would you? Someone I might call?”

She considered a moment, and just when it looked like she might falter, she scooped up the bill from the table. She placed it over her pad and scribbled on the back. She handed it to him.

“Call that number tomorrow.” She started back toward the kitchen, then stopped and turned. She looked stronger suddenly, a little brighter, as if she had discovered some inner strength she never knew she had.

“After nine,” Lynn Bishop added, and she actually left with a smile.

~ 8

Unable to find but a park bench to sleep on (Spencer had been one big NO VACANCY sign), he had made do in the cramped confines of the flatbed. At dawn, he bolted awake with a shout, the Earth and the vehicle trembling. He’d been lost in dream, sole witness to a bizarre game of baseball. The stands had been empty save himself, and while there had been no teams, no benches, no wannabe ump, there had been quite a battle raging on the field. It was the classic confrontation: The Kid on the mound, Swagger and Swirl at the plate. How 23 kept drawing hardballs from his glove was just another of dreamland’s sweet mysteries, but the young hurler had just delivered his 3–2 pitch, when Kain’s skull knuckled the solid edge of the half-drawn window.

Two seconds,
he thought, quite annoyed, massaging the tender side of his head.
Couldn’t the guy have waited two more seconds before blowing that damn horn?

It would have been nice to know.

He could have Turned easily enough, slipped back to the dream, to when the train was just a smoky plume in the distance. Back to where 23 had Big Bad Jones down Oh-and-Two before stabbing three wild pitches into the dirt. And he wanted to. The thing was, that was like skipping ahead and reading the end of a good book, cheating yourself of the Real Deal. Call it cliché, but there was a lot to be said of First Times. How sad it was to just move on without a second thought, after catching your first fish or belting your first homer, watching your child take his first steps … tasting your first kiss. First Times were truly your own, and reaching out to them, locking them away so they could never be taken, well, that was about the best thing you could do. Sometimes, it was the only thing, if the memory was precious enough. Or painful enough.

Strange. Like an operator who has crossed the wrong wire, connecting you to Dallas instead of Los Angeles, from his mind crept a whimsical rhyme, one that Gramps had taught him as a boy. He tried to ignore it, but it haunted. He couldn’t get it out of his head if he tried.

Now’s the moment,

Now’s the time …

Make Now count,

Every time.

He had almost forgotten it, and for a reason he couldn’t fathom, was afraid that he had. It was such a silly thing, after all. He could almost hear the old wizard now, that wise old voice as smooth as silk, and he pushed any thought of Turning away. The dream, unfulfilled, would have to stand on its own. The Real Deal.

Still, he’d indulged himself. God, yes, when the dreams were good. Of course, there were no guarantees, what with the vagaries of the human psyche at play; at times, you were more likely to roll sevens all night at the craps table than to have Lady Luck blow you a kiss and send you back to the same dream. That was, if you even dreamed at all.

There were those of the wet variety, not often mind you (not often enough, for the road was a long and lonely one), but when they came, when they were really good, why the hell not? He risked nothing, perhaps a headache, but hell, sometimes the sex was even better.

And then there were the other great dreams. The
ones.
The ones you couldn’t dream up in a dream if you tried. The ones where you were the President or Napoleon, the ones where you flew like Superman, the ones where you
were
Superman, the ones where you were married to Marilyn Monroe
and
to Jayne Mansfield—the Moment’s, the
Now’s,
as Gramps would say—you could only hope to get back.

At the ripe old age of sixteen, the Sandman had sprinkled his magic dust upon him, delivering him to the World Series. There he was, a pimply faced kid in a Giants uniform, perched on the mound in front of thousands of screaming fans at the Polo Grounds. His pants were a little baggy, his cap a little crooked, but hey, he’d looked good. He’d sent the Bronx Bombers packing to win it all, with all of nine blazing fastballs to Ruth (sure, the Bambino had hung up his cleats the year before, but he was in his prime for this one), Gehrig (the onset of the infamous disease that would kill him in only five years was still a year or so away), and some hot-shot rookie named DiMaggio. But didn’t that go to shit, take a Turn for the worse you might say, for the replay had unfolded just a tad differently, with Joltin’ Joe stoning him with a wicked line drive right in the old jewels. What did they say? You couldn’t get hurt in a dream? The sad truth of it was, he knew two endings, two timelines, each as real to him as the other—curse the Sense—and on that cool October night around two, the latter memory had left him bitter with the foulest taste.

No, when you got down to it, there was nothing quite like the First Time.

Of course, some would argue that Turning for the sake of what
might
happen was reason enough. Play the game. Roll the dice. That was fine for dreams. They were something you could toy with, something you could have fun with; it didn’t matter if you coughed up the home run or fell from the high wire, or crashed the plane into Everest. Sure. No one really got hurt in a dream. No Stiff, anyway.

Stiffs. How lucky were
they?
They were the Jane’s and the Joe’s, the dulled millions going about their days and their months and their years, blissfully unaware of the Turn. How lovely for them. How sweet. How he envied them.

Sometimes, when things got out of hand—out of control, like the Project—one of Brikker’s monkeys who’d found out that his little world was just a little bigger than he’d thought, would lumber up to him with that look on their face. That
look.
It was always the same. They’d stand there in their neatly pressed khakis and their spit-shined boots, their expression dead, most of them trembling and breaking a sweat … as if he could kill them with a thought. They feared him, were terrified, truly, and without exception they approached at arm’s length, as if getting too close meant they’d fall victim to whatever scourge they imagined plagued him. One insisted he be burned like the witch that he was; the man had spat on him. Surprisingly, most were dimly polite, cautious in word and action. All were akin to children in their capacity to understand, frightened little boys in soldier’s clothing, and whether they hailed from California or Massachusetts, Detroit or Fort Worth, they all wanted to know the very same thing.

What happens now? Am I still alive? Is this a dream? Is this how things are supposed to be?

Are you God? Are you the Devil?

The last two invariably sent him into fits of unbridled laughter, scaring half of them half to death. The others fell eerily silent. He had to admit it had given him satisfaction, a way of striking back. It had been all that he had.

They would pose other questions, picking his brain for some gold here, some silver there, prying and praying for even the smallest nugget, anything they could use to set their hearts at ease. But in the end, their fears had boiled down to one simple query. The one that frightened most.

Would I know if things changed?

It was almost comical the way they looked to him for some sort of deliverance. They were fools lost, unable to comprehend, not really, just what it was they were asking.
Did it matter?
he would ask in return, without fail. They would look at him quizzically. Fools lost. It was sad, horribly sad. There seemed a burning need in each of them for some deep truth to be revealed to them. It was as if the thought of missing something special terrified them, as if living another timeline would cheat them of the Real Deal. Perhaps they feared they would die sooner in the new timeline than the old, that somehow, when the world had changed, they had changed with it; that whatever had happened to them had sucked some precious life from their future. Who knew. One soldier, a kid named Reese from Topeka, broke down in front of him, blubbering like a child. He was certain that the Turn had changed the world into something horrible, and while the private couldn’t say what that might mean exactly, Kain had assured him there was always that chance—and then he had laughed, laughed, laughed. Perhaps he had borne a new Hitler in the New World, he’d said, or had given life to some new disease that would make smallpox look like a cold. One never knew until it was too late, he’d assured, and for that they could thank their boss. As for the Answer they sought, that ultimate Truth that could Save, he had but one reply.

BOOK: Velvet Rain - A Dark Thriller
2.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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