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An Idolwood story
Start at the beginning of the Idolwood series
Isaac's heart hammered against his chest. His body ached from exertion, adrenaline, and the effort of running. He'd dropped his skateboard a mile back when his fingers started cramping—his feet were faster on the flat, featureless streets. There had been no cars, either to frighten him or that he might flag down.
Her face stayed in his head, her skeletal frame, her hair bound up beneath her black skullcap. She leered at him through the darkness, lips first pursed, and then snarling.
All the adolescent posturing had been drained from him, tears streaming down his face as he replayed the events of the night again and again. The fight, the car, the gun, the crash.
She'd taken Brandon. She was going to kill them both, kill them all. He had to get home. Dad would know what to do.
Earlier that evening, Alex peered through the window at the sound of the buzzer. Edie gave a smile and waved, holding a carry-out bag from Midland Harbor. Behind her, he saw Grey wiping something from the windshield of his car.
Pulling a t-shirt over his head, Alex opened the door. "Hey, Edie."
"Hey yourself. How are you feeling?"
"Little better." He shook his head. "I don't know. Pretty crazy stuff."
"Well, we've got your fish and a nice steak for the big spender. You want to eat here or at Grey's?"
"I've only got two chairs," shrugged Alex.
"That's fine," said Grey, coming to the shared entry and pulling up short. "What's that sound?"
"Oh." A flush crept up Alex's neck. "Um, just Tom and Gerry. My birds. I'll get them covered."
"You have birds?"
"Yeah, my ex left them behind when she moved. I'll be right over."
"Do you want ice water?"
"Warm's fine," he said, turning to see to his pets. Grey opened his own door and held it for Edie, motioning her in.
"Thanks." Edie walked in, head turning to take in the small but serviceable kitchen. "He didn't strike me as the type to have pets. You either."
"I'm the opposite of Alex. I had two dogs, but Deb took them ... then she gave them away, of course. I couldn't find an apartment that would let me keep them."
"I've thought about it. I miss them, and I'd like to."
"Might not be a bad idea," she said, placing the bag on the counter. She opened two cabinets before finding the plates and pulling three from their place with a scrape that set Grey's teeth on edge. "A guard dog, I mean. You're not after Pomeranians, right?"
"Right," he said. "Excuse me; I've got to run to the restroom. Make yourself at home," he said over his shoulder, seeing that she had already taken a glass to fill with water.
When he returned, Alex was seated with his back to the stairs, watching as Edie cut her lasagna into three rows of five pieces each. Despite the careful precision with which she was cutting, there was already marinara sauce splattered on the table in front of her and at her feet. She had plated Grey's steak as well.
He went to the cabinets to get a glass. "Alex, wouldn't you like a plate?"
"No. It's okay." He waved the plastic knife and fork over the box. "No dishes to wash this way."
"He's got a dishwasher," said Edie, looking up from her plate. "What, did you think Grey scrubbed his own silverware?"
Alex grinned. "It's okay. I don't mind."
Grey decided against offering Edie a glass of wine, and poured himself some iced tea. "I told her the whole story, Alex."
"We discussed it over the phone. I dropped Isaac off, picked up the food, and then called to talk with her."
"She really had a gun?"
"Yeah. I'm sure. I didn't see it, but ..."
"You just knew," Edie nodded.
"I saw her. In my head, I saw her, while I was jogging. I knew she had something in the purse—knew it was a gun." He took a sip from his thermos, set it down, and stared at his dinner. "I've never—you know?"
Edie reached across the table and put a hand on his arm. "It's bad news. I know. Best thing you can do right now is eat." She set back to her lasagna, and then looked to Grey. "Isaac's gone for the weekend?"
"Yes. I've got the place to myself for the night."
"Good. Alexei, did you recognize this woman? Grey said it might be the same person who tried to break in here the other day. Either way you know she's the one leaving the fetishes around."
"She must be," said Grey, "unless Alex has some other secret he isn't telling us."
"No," said Alex, "Nothing for a gun. It's got to be her. I didn't recognize her, though."
"Shame." She pointed to the plant she had given Isaac, set beneath the kitchen window. "Alexei, I'm going to bring over something for your place. I don't spy through them or anything, so don't worry about that. I just have a good idea of how a place that has my plants in it feels."
"How it feels?" Grey lifted an eyebrow.
She gestured with a note of impatience. "The vibe, you know. Whatever the kids call it these days. I can tell whether the people there are feeling good, or sad ..."
"That too. That's what I'm counting on, some way to know if something goes bad for either of you."
"Wait," said Grey, "what about your garden gnomes, or whatever you call them? I know you could see what was happening when I was over in your driveway."
"Oh, Grey," she smiled around a forkful of lasagna. "I've had one of those across the street for two days now."
Grey paused in mid-sip, and then set his glass down with a sharp ring. "You've been watching us for two days?"
"Front and back door. Not continuous. I do have my own life to live, you know. Is there a problem?"
"Yes, God damn it!" Grey's voice rose. "What right do you have to spy on me?"
"Wouldn't you have been glad if our lady friend tried to break in again, and someone knew to call the police right away?"
"You can't just do that, Edie! Exactly how am I supposed to trust you if you do things like that?"
"Hey," said Alex, "she's right, Grey."
"Come on, Alex. You'd agree with her if she told you the sky was black."
"It is, Grey; at night."
"You think this is funny? I'm not joking, Edie."
"If I thought it was funny, I wouldn't have set them up." Edie waved a hand at the door. "You've got no alarm system. No security. Someone's already tried to break in. Someone tried hunting Alexei down like a dog.
"Do you know what stake I've got in this? Nothing. Nothing at all. You two came to me and you, Grey, you insulted me. I'm doing this because I'm a decent person, you understand? I could let you twist in the wind and rot away, and I'm starting to think I should."
Alex cleared his throat, but Grey cut in. "How did I insult you?"
"You accused me of being behind this first doll, remember? So now remember how I took care of it for you."
Grey shook his head. "If the doll maker is watching at all times, then guess what? She saw you do it. So don't tell me you have no stake in this."
Edie's mouth remained half-open as she turned to Alex. "Are you even listening to this?"
"Well ... you're both kinda right."
"How is he right?"
"You should've told us. But I'm glad you did it. I don't have alarms. I'm glad you were watching."
"So at least one of us is happy," she shook her head. "Look, Grey. What do you want? An apology?"
"I ..." he paused, fighting for control. "Yes. More than that, though, I want to know when one of you is watching what I do, or listening in, or anything. What do you think I would have thought if I found one of yours, Edie? I would have tied it in with the doll maker, and panicked. It's not the time to leave little surprises in my path."
She took her time, looking him up and down, and then gave a half-shrug. "All right. I'm sorry this was a problem for you. I'm going to leave them in place but I won't look in unless you let me know you're leaving the house. Is that fair?"
"That's better," he nodded. "All right, that sounds fair."
"So you're right, I am tied into this now. I can still bring that plant over to Alexei and keep tabs on his place that way, if you're all right with that?"
"Sure." Alex turned his attention back to his dinner.
"How about the park? Are you comfortable going back there tomorrow, if I come along?"
"Oh ... sure, I guess."
"All right then, pick me up when you're ready. We'll head out and take care of the last of them. And Grey—how about you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm contributing with the watchers. Alexei's been taking care of the idols. What, exactly, are you bringing to the table here?"
Grey felt the acid burning in his stomach. Was she trying to be offensive? She'd been short in her own home, but tonight her whole persona seemed to be kicked into overdrive.
"Listen," he said, keeping his voice even. "I don't pretend to know how you do what you do. I don't have any kind of insight, or special ... gifts. But I've made a promise that I'll stand by Alex through this whole thing. So whatever's needed, to the best of my ability, that is what I'm putting forward."
Edie swabbed her lasagna through the sauce. "Good," she said. "That's what I wanted to hear. None of us are going to be able to manage this alone, and that means an actual pact."
She reached for her bag, a massive bundle of felt and fabric in garish pinks and oranges. Withdrawing a ball of yarn, a pair of shears, a notebook and a pen; she laid them on the table beside her and glanced up. "Finish your steak, Grey. It's going to take a minute or two anyway."
He and Alex ate in silence as she removed more items: three small black candles, a lighter, a crude ceramic cat's head with a third eye worked between its brows, and a small vial of clear liquid. She gathered them up and carried them through the doorway into Grey's living room, pushing aside a stack of Miles Davis CDs and a coaster from the coffee table.
The cat's head went in the center, surrounded by the candles. With the shears she cut five lengths of yarn, measuring them between her outstretched arms, humming without a tune to herself. She then perched on the edge of the leather sofa's arm, scribbling in the notebooks before rising, fetching her water bottle, and returning to her work.
"Is there anything we can do?" Grey asked.
"Load the dishwasher when you're done." A smile flashed across her face. "I'm done with the pasta. Good place."
"They do good fish," agreed Alex, pushing the box away.
"Grey, does this fireplace work?"
"It's gas fired, and it's supposed to. I haven't tried it out yet."
"Would you mind?"
Alex loaded the dishwasher as Grey fiddled with the gauges and nozzles, Edie's random humming serving as background. It occurred to Grey that the scene could be almost domestic if it weren't for the strangeness of their situation. With a brief hiss the fireplace leapt to life, forcing him to snatch his hand back.
"Well, it works."
"Good. If you boys are ready, hit the lights."
Grey wanted to ask more questions about this pact—but the answers had never been satisfactory before, and he saw no reason that would change. They'd offered to help. He'd have to go along with it.
"Stand here, Alex—Grey, across from us." She arranged them in a triangle around the coffee table. "Give me your hands. The dominant ones."
She wrapped the yarn around Grey's left wrist and Alex's right, tight but not uncomfortable, the stray fabrics tickling the sensitive skin. She wrapped her own right wrist, took the remaining end of all three to bind them together above the cat's head, then tied the final two strands into the central knot of a cat's cradle. Looking down, Grey saw the skull was open—more a teacup than a sculpture, stuffed with the small scraps of paper Edie had written on.
"The pact's written. Until we find the maker of idols, and agree on what to do about her, we'll be bound to one another. We've agreed to watch and help each other 'till then. Afterwards, the pact will break. Understood?"
She took the lighter from the table, and lit each candle with a delicate touch. "Grey Jordan. Alexei Pajari. Edie Allaway. Three for three 'til the fourth is found, power shared, and power bound."
At that she lit the trailing ends of yarn. It caught, and spread so fast that Grey almost didn't realize what was happening. Alex looked at Edie.
"Shhh. Trust me."
The fire devoured the central point, dissolving the nexus that had bound them all, ashes spiraling into the ceramic cat's head. Edie kept her hand steady and still—Alex doing the same, even as the blue flame licked closer to their wrists. Grey flinched. "Grab that water, Alex!"
"No!" She shouted, "Trust me." The fire encircled Edie's wrist like a living, leaping bracelet. She did not cry out.
Stunned, Grey waited, watching as the fire coiled about the two mens' wrists. It wasn't cool, but it did not burn—around the smooth skin of Alexei's hand, or the coarse black hair of Grey's. The ashes continued to swirl as though directed, embers falling into the papers and setting the tiny teacup alight itself.
"That's it," whispered Edie. "You're marked."
In the light of the twin fires, a thin black line, delicate as a smoke-ring, curled around three wrists.
"What, not dramatic enough for you?"
Grey gave a nervous little laugh. "No. No, it was just fine, just right. I don't know what I was thinking."
Alex was fascinated by the ring on his wrist. "This'll come off, right?"
"After the pact's broken, yes."
"Okay," he shrugged. "So long as it does."
"We should have this taken care of sooner rather than later. At any rate, that's all there is to it, Grey, unless you'd like to propose a toast."
He first considered her, then the bottle of Cotes du Rhone in his cabinet, and nodded, watching the fire die down in the center of his coffee table. "I think that's a good idea."
Alex cleared his throat, and Grey smiled at him. "I have sparkling grape juice, too, Alex."
"Oh," said the big man. "That's okay, yeah."
The door slammed, and Grey's eyes snapped open. He grabbed the fireplace poker from where he had propped it against the nightstand, tumbling from bed with the sheets twined about his legs.
"DAD! DAD, DAD, DAD!"
"Isaac?" He threw open the bedroom door and dropped the poker. Isaac shot up the stairs and threw his arms around him, voice and body trembling.
"Dad, dad! She took Brandon!"
"What? Isaac, what?" Grey fought out of the embrace and crouched down to Isaac's level, taking both his shaking shoulders in his hands. "Slow down. What do you mean kidnapped?"
"I went out tonight. I went to the park and Brandon was there and she took him away and she had a gun! She was trying to kill me, dad! She tried to kill me!"
Grey felt cold until he realized how lost Isaac was, how young. He grabbed his son and wrapped him back into an embrace. "Shh. You're here. You're safe. Shhhh. It's all right. It's okay. Listen, Isaac, you're home. Come on."
He walked Isaac into the bedroom, turned on both the hall light and overhead, then sat beside him on the rumpled bed. He kept one arm tight around his son's shoulders. Isaac put both arms around him and buried his head into his father's chest.
"Listen to me. You're home. You're safe. Nobody is going to get you here. Not while I'm alive. You understand?"
"Uh-huh ... but dad, she had a gun."
"What did she look like, Isaac?"
"She was so thin. So thin and so mean. She called me."
"She called my phone. She said if I told anyone she'd kill Brandon and find me and kill me, too."
"Nobody is going to hurt you. Ever. She kidnapped Brandon?"
"And she said if I told anybody ..."
"Yes. I know. She won't, though. Okay? You're safe."
"Okay." His shivering came to a halt, though his breathing remained heavy.
"We're going to have to call the police."
"NO! She'll ..."
"Isaac, listen. Listen to me. Kidnapping and attempted murder? This isn't a game. All right? It's not something we can handle on our own. She's not going to ..."
He stopped in mid-sentence. How could he be sure? There were so many people online who were interested in those dolls—just one afternoon's surfing had shown him that. If some dispatcher had a doll sitting on her desk, if a secretary at the precinct collected them and talked to her husband in the dolls' earshot ... he had no way of knowing that the police could keep it confidential.
She would kill Brandon, just a boy. Kill him.
He couldn't picture it.
Both jumped at the sound of fists against the wall that divided his living room from Alex's, and he heard the slam of a door seconds before a frantic pounding on his own.
"Come on," he said, pulling Isaac to his feet.
"You okay?" Alex's shoulders were tight, fists balled. "Everything okay? Edie called, said the house was bad."
"No," said Grey, "Everything is not okay. Everything is far from it."
It took ten minutes for Brandon to worm his way into position, waiting for her to pull onto the highway. He would take his chances. Kick out with both legs and pray she hit a barrier; pray he didn't suffer for it himself.
In his silence, Gamine had time to think on what had happened. The second boy. He would be a problem. He'd seen the car, witnessed her, and might have even taken the license number. It had been dark, and he had been frightened, yet still …
Still. Her love would be pleased, and would please her in return.
Brandon shook with the effort of waiting as he thought over his chances, and thought of Isaac. What the hell was she doing looking for him? Isaac hadn't ever done anything to anybody, and his father wasn't rich or famous. It didn't make any sense.
The car reached the on-ramp. Brandon gritted his teeth, shut his eyes, and lashed out with all his might. Both legs jack-knifed forward to connect with the top of the seat, and Gamine's chest was thrust against the steering wheel, knocking her head on the dashboard.
"God damn it!" She screamed, wrestling with the wheel. Three yellow barrels went flying from the construction zone of the on-ramp, and a horn blared as a semi veered past her erratic town car. With her right hand she grabbed her gun, with the left; she steered to the side of the road, braking hard as she went.
With the sudden change in speed, Brandon's body slid down, his tailbone striking the wheel well of the back seat, legs and torso crumpling into a V-shape as she turned and jammed the muzzle of the gun into his face.
"That was really, really stupid, little boy," she gasped. "I should've done this already but I thought you were smarter."
Her left hand rummaged through the purse and came out with a roll of duct tape. She tore a strip with her teeth, slapped one edge to one of his pants legs, and began working to wrap the two together. "Press them together, kid. Do it. I'll shoot you right here in the road. No blood in the car at all. Get it?"
Brandon struggled regardless, knowing she'd have to pull him from the car to carry out her threat, trusting he could get to his feet. She shifted the gun to just above his Adam's apple and pressed hard, blocking the flow of air to his lungs.
Gagging and squirming, he moved to escape the constant pressure—but in his position there was no way to escape it. A second pair of headlights flashed, and then passed her by.
Jesus, he thought, just let someone see this...
He thought no more as the world went dim.
Gamine kept the pressure on a moment longer, and then withdrew a rag and a bottle of chloroform from the glove compartment. Stepping out into the road, she drenched the rag and pressed it over Brandon's nose and mouth. There was the sting of blood in one eye from where the dashboard had torn away some skin, and her head pounded from the impact.
"Little fucker," she snarled, "You're going to pay for that."
Satisfied he was out; she pulled back off the highway. It wouldn't do to stay on it now, not with two possible identifications. She'd check the bumper in the morning to see if the barrels had any effect. She had wanted to get back as quick as possible, but now it would have to be via back roads.
It was closer to one than midnight when she arrived, and the subdivision was quiet. Two streets from the house she killed her headlights, and then slid the town car into the Hanged Man's garage.
Brandon moaned as she opened the door in the semi-darkness, lit by a single naked bulb above the inner doorway. Pausing, she reached to the shelf beside her and took up a gardening knife.
"Are you up, little boy? Just pretending to be out? Believe me, I can find out real quick, and you won't like it."
The point of the knife went to the back of his knee and sliced the leg of his jeans, revealing bare skin. Again she applied the knifepoint, pricking at first, and then pushing more deeply. Blood welled from the cut as the leg flinched away, but the sound he made was that of a sleepwalker trapped in a nightmare, not the frightened scream of a wakeful victim.
Satisfied, she put both arms under his own and pulled him from the car. At fifteen he outweighed her, but her love would still be sleeping, could still be surprised.
She dragged him through the door, heels scraping on the concrete and banging against the reinforced wooden stairs. Once inside she set him down to lock the door behind her, and then turned to lift him once more. Despite the cumbersome nature of her burden, she wrestled him to the metal post which sat alongside the Hanged Man's throne.
The handcuffs came off, damp with her sweat. Around the pole, then back on. A nylon rope around both ankles, finishing the job she'd started with the duct tape. He sat then, slumped against the pole on the chill bare concrete, his hands dangling near the drain in the center of the floor.
Above, she heard the Hanged Man moving about, the heavy tread of his bare feet on the hardwood floors. She turned, standing proud above her prize as he trudged down the steps. His eyes, rimmed with red from too little sleep, went wide as he took in the scene before him.
"My love," Gamine whispered, putting all the nasal menace from her voice, breathing heavily from the evening's effort and the sudden shift in her persona. He had woken the beauty in her, and she loved the beauty in their speech. "Surprise."
His hands balled into fists, nails digging into the meat of his palms. His ponderous breasts rose and fell in in short, rapid breaths as he stepped forward, grabbed Brandon's face in one hand and turned it from side to side.
"No ..." he whispered. "No."
"Have I pleased you, love?" She set one hand on the broadness of his back. "I brought the traitor's child."
"No. You didn't," said the Hanged Man in a flat voice. "You stupid, little bitch."
Story by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2011
Image by Amber Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2011