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Authors: Kat Richardson

Vanished (5 page)

BOOK: Vanished
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I felt sucker punched once again—he wrote it to me? Signed his name as if I were an adult? Why? I’d been twelve! I gaped up at my mother. Unable to say anything else, I blurted, “You kept the suicide note?”

She glanced aside and shrugged. “Everything was just shoved in a box when we moved.”

“Bullshit. The cops would have kept it with the file unless you requested it. Why did you ask for it back?” And why didn’t I remember any of it? There must have been cops around, asking questions. They must have asked why he’d apologized to me, but I had no memory of any of that. It was as if there were a yawning hole around everything connected to my father’s death, and I could not recall anything of the time or the circumstances.

My mother flapped her hands in the air, as if distancing herself physically from the sheet of paper. “I didn’t ask for that. I just wanted the property they took. When I asked, they just gave me everything.”

“The gun, too?”

She didn’t reply; she just looked away, wan faced.

I pawed through the heap the box had spilled forth, stirring and sorting until I found it: an old-school Smith & Wesson revolver. It was still in an evidence bag, gritty and smeared. No one had cleaned it off. I felt sick and swallowed bile. But the gun had no glimmer of Grey to it. It was just a dead object, less active than most. The note was Grey, but not the instrument my father had used to end his life. That was strange.

“Was this his?” I asked.

My mother shook her head and didn’t look in my eyes. “No. Rob never owned a gun that I knew of.”

So where had it come from? I had a lunatic thought and asked, “Was it yours?” My mother had grown up on a cattle ranch, after all. She’d been around guns and horses and hard men from the cradle. She’d flipped out because I had a pistol on me, but she’d been more upset that I’d brought a gun into her house than that it was a firearm per se. Was she just being a dramatic hypocrite or did she have some particular problem with the idea of guns now? Or was it me and guns?

She sighed. “Yes. It’s mine.” Her shoulders slumped as if the admission had taken something from her.

“Ah.” Once the case was determined to be a clear suicide, and not a homicide, the cops had given her the note as part of his belongings. But they’d given her the gun because it was hers.

My mother’s gun. My father’s death. And a dead boyfriend telling me it was time to figure out how it all made me what I was. Cold tripped down my spine. This just kept getting freakier.

I stared into the mess around my feet, searching for other glimmers of Grey. A general haze of silver mist lay over the pile like dry-ice fog. There was a lot of stuff to sort through, but whether any of it would present a clue or not, as a body, it already told me Dad had had something Grey going on. I’d have to find him, too, if I could. I didn’t relish the idea of hunting through the Grey, through layers of time and memory and horrors, until I found his ghost—if he had one. I shuddered.

“This room is always so chilly,” my mother said.


“You shivered, sweetie. It’s because the room is cold.”

I let that pass. If my mother believed that, she was less canny than I’d given her credit for.

“Do you have another box I could put this stuff in? I want to sort through it at the hotel.”

“But you can do that here!”

“I’d rather take it somewhere else, out of your way,” I replied. I knew my tone was cold, but I didn’t care. Fear was creeping in and I wasn’t going to give in to it, not in front of her.

My mother frowned but surprised me by just going away to fetch another box and not arguing. Maybe she realized that it wasn’t an activity she was going to enjoy. She handed the flat-folded box to me along with a roll of tape and climbed back up on her ladder to watch while I repacked the contents of the split carton.

“You’ll bring the rest back when you’re done, won’t you?” she asked as I hefted the box up into my arms.

“Yeah. Tomorrow probably. There are a few other boxes I’d like to take a look at, if you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind.” She sounded eager in spite of my frosty manner, and I supposed she was a little lonely—or just bored—during the day, while Damon was off doing whatever he did until dinnertime. I couldn’t imagine what she did all day. I knew she didn’t have a job; she lived on the proceeds of divorce and widowhood and whatever man she was clinging to at the time. Judging by her earlier comments, she saw other women as “the competition,” so I didn’t imagine she spent her days hanging out with them, lest she come off the worse by comparison.

I forced myself to unbend a bit. “Mother, what do you do all day?” I asked as she followed me back up the stairs.

“What do you mean, sweetie?”

“What I said. What do you do all day? You don’t work; you don’t cook and clean—or you never did after Dad died. How do you kill the time all day?”

“I play golf. I go to my yoga class. I shop. That sort of thing.”

I don’t know why her reply surprised me, but it did. “You don’t dance anymore? At all?”

“Oh, no, not other than socially. It’s just too painful to see all those skinny little girls prancing around the studio like dogs in heat.”

Another exasperated sigh escaped me. You just couldn’t win with my mother: you were either too fat to be pretty or too pretty to be borne. The philosophical aspects of yoga seemed not to have taken root in her angry little soul. Had she always been like that? I thought so, but I was not objective.

We walked up to the carport, and I put the box into the backseat of my rental car. I turned back to look at my mother, feeling strange at how much larger I was than this diminutive tyrant of my childhood.

“I’ll bring these back tomorrow, if you want them.”

“Of course, sweetie!”

“I may have questions. . . .”

“That’ll be fine. I’m just . . . so happy to see you!” she added, forcing a hug around my chest.

I didn’t know how to respond to this mercurial monster. Was she crazy or just controlling? I didn’t know. I squirmed away. “I may want to look in other boxes,” I reminded her.

“I don’t mind,” she said. “Call before you come, though—I might be out.”

I didn’t ask what she’d be doing. I didn’t care except that it might slow me from getting what I wanted and getting out of that smog-bound lotus land and specifically away from her.

I thought I might regret it, but I drove away from my mother’s house and around the backs of the Hollywood hills toward Mulholland Drive. I wasn’t looking forward to this meeting, either, but I had to try to talk to Cary one more time before I got any deeper into the mystery of my own past. I wanted to know why he’d popped up now and what he’d meant by “things waiting” for me.
No matter what a ghost tells you, there’s always the possibility that it’s a lie or just plain wrong. They aren’t omniscient or instantly truthful just because they’re dead. They’re as stupid and opinionated as they were in life, and even more limited in knowledge most of the time. Once in a while, they get hold of information that exists only in the Grey, and then things get a lot more complicated. I was betting that Cary had remained, in death, a lot like he’d been in life: curious, stubborn, cautious, and foolishly romantic.

I took the grumbling little car up the twisty roads of the hills until I reached the saddle where Mulholland crests the ridge from the southeast and starts down into the valley on the northwest, crossing Coldwater Canyon Road above the reservoir. I parked the car in the overlook—no more than a dusty, extra wide bit of shoulder to accommodate the desire of drivers to stop and stare at the view spreading on both sides of the road.

Just behind my car was an odd little hump where the roads met and a lone house perched at the top of the rise, glimmering through the brushy chaparral at the top of a gated road. On the other side of the turnout was the place Cary had parked the night he died so he could watch that house. I didn’t want to put my car there, so I left it where it was and stepped out, being careful of the blind traffic coming across the ridge. I walked along the crumbling edge of the packed dirt. The scent of the dust and the plants swelled in the warming afternoon air, poisoned with the acid of exhaust.

To the south I could look down into the steep, storm-forged canyons of Los Angeles and its colony of rich and famous recluses and Spanish revival houses set in the twists of the arroyo walls. To the north the broader, rolling floodplain of the San Fernando Valley offered its more sanitized and spreading estates in the descending hills of Sherman Oaks and Studio City before the valley turned into an endless bowl of suburbia smothered in smog.

I came to a boulder that had been shoved and wedged at the edge of the turnout by the last big landslide, and I sat on it, waiting. If Cary was going to show up, I figured this was the place: about a hundred feet straight up from where he’d died.

After a while of sitting in the sun and staring into the Grey, I saw him, trudging up the canyon side, trailing uncanny flame and smoke. Cary didn’t quite levitate, though his feet made no impression on the ground or plants he passed over. He reached me and stopped, swirled in fire that crackled and stunk of burning creosote and charring flesh.

I gagged, but held it down with difficulty. A desire to shake and scream and cry and hide my face crawled beneath my skin. It wasn’t just the smell but the presence of the man I used to love amid the flame and the sunshine and the odor of past and present warring in my senses. I’d never seen a ghost so horrible.

“Hiya, Slim,” he said, staying a few feet away from me as if he thought he might set me alight if he drew closer. I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t.

“Hi,” I faltered back.

“You look sad. What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I don’t know. You called me and now . . . things are crazy. My dad killed himself. Did you know that? Is that what you wanted me to discover about my past?” It sounded angry and accusatory, and I don’t know why I said it that way—it just came out.

“No. I don’t know what you need to find out. I just know . . . We’re not like you. Dead is like being locked in a room in the loony bin with only a cruddy little window some tree’s grown in front of. Sometimes you get out on the ward floor, but usually you’re just in your room. You can’t see much and you can’t go out unless someone opens the door.”

“Who opened it? Who let you out?” I thought if I knew who, I might be able to figure out what I was supposed to know.

Cary shook his burning head. The long-gone flesh was blackened and crisp, but the face was still his, though his eyes were only coals and his smile showed tombstone teeth against the inferno that engulfed him.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I had the chance and I took it, but that window’s starting to close. I’ll have to leave soon.”

“Then you’ll have to talk fast.” My voice caught in the back of my throat like smoke and stones.

“I don’t have a complete picture,” Cary said. “Just the outline. What I can see or hear from my tiny window. I heard about you when you first came here. I couldn’t believe you were dead. I tried to get to you then, but by the time I got close, you weren’t with us anymore. And then it got so much harder to get near you. There are things after you. Things near you all the time. I don’t know what to call them. They aren’t the dead and they aren’t the living. They watch you and they have been for a long time. They were watching you even when I died and since before then—a long time. Now something’s happening. Something’s . . . breaking. Suddenly it’s like everything is unlocked around you and the things from your past are flooding out. I snuck out with them, but I can’t stay. I don’t think they mean you any good. They’re . . . evil things. That sounds so crazy. . . .”

He was fading. I tried to reach for him, but my arms felt scorched and I jerked them back. “It’s not crazy. Cary! Don’t go!”

He put out his incorporeal hand, wreathed in fading fire, and stroked my cheek, sending a whisper of burning and chill over my face. “I’m sorry, Slim. If I told you I loved you, I lied. I miss you, but I don’t want you here. I’m . . . so sorry. Be careful. They come out of the past. They come . . . from . . . evil.”

“No!” I shouted as he snuffed out and disappeared into the smoggy canyon air in a dwindling stream of smoke. I snatched at the dark plume as it dissipated and got nothing but a handful of eucalyptus leaves and the odor of doused campfires.

“Cary!” I screamed, willing him to come back, knowing he was gone and I couldn’t bring him back. I was outraged and hurt and torn into pieces. I thought of Quinton’s uncomplicated affection and I hated Cary, but I kept yelling his name until I had to lay my head on my drawn-up knees and gulp my breath.

I sat huddled in the umber-tinged sunlight until the dreadful sensation of loss was bearable. Not just Cary Malloy and whatever I’d thought we’d had, but my father and my belief in my past had all been swept away at a stroke, and I howled at the gashed hurt of fresh loss. Not even thoughts of Quinton and my home and my life could stop the ache of betrayal. The sound that tore itself out of me was not just of grief, but of fury. I wanted to find the truth—whatever it was—and devour it so I could never be lied to again. No matter how it hurt I was going to hunt it down.

BOOK: Vanished
11.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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