It was still dark. I remember that much. But it somehow seemed to thicken behind my eyes and I had the first dream I’ve had in a long time. I’m behind my desk in the office. It must have been a memory because the sheets were all off the furniture, Mack Allen was playing on the turntable, and Louise was sitting across from me.
I jumped when I saw her. This didn’t have the gauzy vagueness of a dream; I could see every feature from the slant of her nose to the white crescent shaped scar just above her lip. She was shuffling her tarots and I felt my stomach do a lazy roll, sweat beads on the back of my neck.
without a word she slaps a glossy card on the desk in front of me. The record continues on in its ghostly wail but I suddenly can’t make out the words.
“the hanged man reversed. beware the kindness of strangers.”
“Is that what this is about?”
“You don’t belong here.”
“This is my office.”
“The tower. Have you lost control of your situation?” her fingers rap along the edge of the oversized deck.
“I’ve never been more in control. Hell, I'm halfway to solving this.” I should feel bad for snapping at her, but she’s speaking riddles.
“The easy half, what are you going to do when you don’t have help?”
“What help, you?”
“I’m trying to warn you.” she slams the deck down beside her and the cards she’s lain already shutter on the tabletop. “You started this with the intention of hiding from my brother, but even you have to admit the danger in this, this blind trust you’ve thrown in these men.”
“Hey, Roger’s a soldier. We take care of our own. He saved my ass already. Plus he’s got the Doc, hell they all probably lost track of time. The Doc’s wife probably jumped the gun and is worrying for nothing. You’ll see.” I shut my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose, how can I make her realise how wrong she is? What can I say to wrench that self righteous smile off her damn face so that she can see I had everything under control. I hear her from behind my closed eyes.
“Ask yourself, the Percy Slate who used to close cases. Ask that man if he truly believes it, that is if you haven’t drowned him by now. You. Don’t. Belong. Here.”
I snap, feeling my feet hit the floor and propel me to them so quickly the chair spins out from beneath me.
The chair across from me is empty, the cards stacked neatly in the middle of the table. To my left the record player has begun to skip. The skip turns into a rhythmic drip and my face is suddenly wet. water forms on the bridge of my nose before I feel it engulf my legs and I get sucked into an undertow, the world snapping into silence as the back of my head hits and water floods into my ears.
I wake with a start to the sound of cackling. Roger and the guys from last night are huddled around the foot of my now soaking wet bed. Roger holds an empty pale. Joe stands beside him grinning like the grim reaper and I’m left gasping and shaking feeling like my head’s two sizes too small for my eyeballs. I can only gasp out a feeble “what gives” that sends them into a new fit of laughter.
“Ah shit, call it initiation Slate. Here; I had a guy run out and get some decent threads to replace that consignment shop special you’ve got on. Smells like it could stand up on its own.
I look on the back of the door and there’s a suit bag hanging there. shoes, a towel and box of soap flakes sit on the cot next to me. It’s only then that I realise the doctor’s missing.
After I get cleaned up and change I find him smoking in the back, standing under a gazebo with the roof half rotted off. I join him and he nods amicably. In his eyes I see the same red tendrils threading through glossy white that I’ve stared at in the bathroom mirror for months.
“hmm?” he murmurs, his eyebrows raise. I motion with my cigarette in a circular pattern around his face. He gets the jist of it and blinks.
“Oh no I don’t touch the stuff, it dulls the senses, for what I do I need to be sharp.”
“And what are you doing here exactly?” I ask him.
“The doctor? I’ve contracted him out. He’s on loan from the university.” Roger calls to us from across the yard. He joins us under the collapsed roof and nods approvingly at me. “Good fit, shame about the coat though.”
I’ve buttoned my brown duster over the new suit. The fit is snug but I need warmth, my hands won’t stop shaking. Around us the patters in a steady drum, spreading a grey light around the yard assaulting my senses with the raw earth musk of worms.
“Matter of fact doctor.” Roger continues “they’re waiting for you in the basement.” Carruthers takes a final steadying drag from his cigarette and pitches the butt into the wet grass, leaving Roger and I alone to look on the back of the sprawling estate house before us. Its shape is a mixture of a townhouse, a farmhouse, and a turret all connected in pale pink brickwork. Even overseas I’ve never seen anything like it. I tell Roger as much and he just shakes his head smiling to himself.
“Yes. Everyone who sees the place has the same kind of attitude towards it, wait a while. It’ll grow on you. I notice the flap of a curtain in the breeze and realise someone has a window open on the second floor. Roger doesn’t give me a time frame of how long it’ll take to grow on me, as if he knows I’ve got no place to go. Instead he lights another smoke, Offering one to me.
Normally the thought of smoking one of his Grey’s would roll my stomach, but since my head feels stuffed with gauze and the world still seems to have a slow roll to it I think maybe it’ll even me out. He takes a drag and looks at me through the cloud of smoke. He has dark eyes that are emphasized by the Hudson Bay fur coat he’s wearing.
“You know what I did over there?” he asked. My mind slips a memory behind my eyes and I remember our talking over the table stuffed with bottles but little of the substance. I gamble on something I heard Joe mutter back in the Chicago Club. “Infantry, right?”
“To an extent.” He answers. “We realised pretty early on that trench warfare is nasty business. weather like this-” he motions with his hand around the soaked and sprawling backyard. “Always reminds me of the miserable weather over there. Boots lost in quagmires, horses breaking legs. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how much that sound can haunt you. Not to mention legions of our own men being new to the battlefield. Farm kids that went from shooting racoons to killing men. We needed an edge, we needed something better than bullets and bombs.”
I take a drag from the cigarette, cautious of where this is going. Roger hasn’t yet struck me as someone fatigued from battle, but then again I’ve known him for one night. I hear a soft creak of a floorboard and suddenly remember my dream of Louise, of her questioning this group.
“We needed something that could win the war for us quicker without increasing the dead and walking wounded-” He pauses, his gaze soft along the sprawling estate as if he’s looking at something in the yellowing grass I can’t see.
“Percy.” He looks me square in the eye “have you ever heard of physiological warfare?” I hadn’t.
I’d knew warfare, and knew hacks who called themselves psychics and how they dealt in the business of head shrinking, but the two together seemed asinine and, frankly, laughable. I feel like Roger has to be putting me on again; another prank, one of the guys waiting to jump out from behind the woodshed yelping like the boogeyman. I smile to let Roger know I’m on to him but he just stares me down until the smile drops from my lips. He looks back into the yard and is silent for a few moments. When he continues he speaks in a factual tone, as if he’s talking to a priest in the confessional.
“We called them Fritz Bombs. Jerry’s who surrendered picked for a special mission for our side. We’d take riflemen and snipers, but officers were the best. They could get in anywhere.”
My dream comes back to haunt me and all I can think of is Louise’s cool stare when asking if I can trust him. I take a centering breath of the fetid air. “How could you do that?” I breathe “Without the top brass catching wind.”
“Catching wind? They were the ones gusting the strongest! Britain knew exactly what we were doing, and after seeing the results, they were happy to have us continue the operation.”
“Are you telling me.” I asked “That you somehow convinced German soldiers to attack their fellow soldiers, and Britain simply let it happen?”
“Does it sound far-fetched?”
“It sounds like a violation of basic human rights. It sounds like you think I’m stupid! What man in his right mind would do something that contradictory?” Roger lets my question hang between us before shrugging slightly, reaching into his thick fur and taking a silver flask from its deep folds. He takes a nip and extended it to me, grimacing. “Forget about it. Just some old ghosts we stirred up last night. Hair of the dog? Warm you up.”
The flask is in my hand faster than I care to admit and though I try to stop half of it from sliding down my throat I don’t try very hard. It tastes like spiced rum. It tastes like I need another one.
“Come on.” Roger said as if reading my thoughts. “I’ll get you a fresh cup of joe to put some of that in.
Back inside I smell the greasy scent of eggs and bacon wafting through the house. Roger takes a faded white mug from a cupboard and pours from a kettle. The coffee was thick and the spice of the rum gives it an almost chocolatey thickness. My stomach feels like a stone inside of me. I look up from the mug and lean against the counter. I think about what Roger said outside. “What you were talking about out there. I point vaguely to the back door we just entered from. “Is that what Carruthers is working on?” Roger looks from the kettle to my mug and then finally meets my eyes. He’s silent long enough to make me think he isn’t going to answer. After a minute he stands from the counter and utters a simple
“No. Nothing like that. I told you, he’s on loan.”
He takes another nip from the flask and offers it out to me. As I reach for it I almost think better of it. Whatever he’s drinking must be as imported as his cigarettes because all at once there are two flasks in front of my eyes. I blink hard trying to clear my vision but the room starts spinning instead. I take a step forward and the whole world tilts on me. Windows and cabinets are suddenly replaced with black and white tiles and I try to correct myself, over running my momentum and taking three unsteady steps into a den. I see two men sitting in wingback chairs but I can’t make out their features. I try to ask them what the hell they are staring at but my mouth has gone as dumb as my eyes. Finally the lids are too heavy to bear and I stumble right into the black depths of unconsciousness.
I dream again. We’re in the office again. Louise and me.
“Haven’t we already heard this song?” I ask, referring to our seating rather than the inaudible warbling coming from the record player.
“Don’t be a wise ass.” Louise looks at me with scorn. “I told you. You don’t belong here.”
“How the hell do you know where I belong anyway eh? you’re gone.” And because I’m feeling extra spiteful I feel the need to add “you’re dead!” even though it’s my heart that breaks. Louise is unmoved. She just keeps slapping the cards down.
“The Devil upright, nothing we didn’t already know. It’s a wonder you can even stand at all.” Another slap “Judgement reversed. You always were the last to know anything, even about yourself.” Slap. “The Earth reversed.” She finally looks saddened, her eyes sag at the sides and the knife in my chest twists deeper.
I long to reach for her. To feel the warmth of her hand under mine. To twine our fingers together and kiss the back of her hand, the unspoken vow we used to promise each other.
But this is just a dream. All of this has just been a dream, so why does it feel so damn real?
“You still blame yourself, don’t you?” she asks
“Don’t.” The word gets caught in my throat, it’s suddenly too thick to talk.
“Oh Percy.” Her remorse sounds exactly how I remember it, and it’s impossible because this is just a dream; the stupid, silly longing of a washed up drunkard. I twist my face away as a sob escapes from the lump in my throat. I run my left hand across the tabletop, scattering the cards in a soft flutter to the floorboards.
The record player lets out a grainy wail that startles my attention to the skipping needle. When I look back my sob is replaced by an outcry of terror.
Louise sits in the brown dress she wore that day, but it’s been mottled with dirt, dirt I know comes from a fresh grave she’s somehow crawled out of. I don’t want to see it. Not again. But my eyes crawl up her rotting body with agonising slowness. I see the tear of red blood trailing from her right eye, I follow that trail to its source and let out a yelp of sadness feeling the same heart smashing grief that fell over me the day I found her. I’ve worn that grief like a cloak ever since.
The blood leads to a small hole in her forehead where a bullet fired from Salvatore Collisetta’s pistol ended my wife’s life. I shut my eyes against the ghoul in front of me and start screaming and pleading with whatever God can hear me to please make me wake up.
Continued next issue
If you missed the bonus scene this morning Check it out here