“The Catholics’ greatest hubris was in assuming that their sin starts in their hearts and ends in a confessional.”
Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM
Support C: “Em. Em, wake up.”
It’s early. Too early after the night they had, that time of day before the sun has fully risen. Wherever he fell asleep he’s in bed now, and she’s got him on his back with her knees on either side of his waist, half-sitting on his lap. She taps him a few times on the chest. She’s in one of his shirts, legs bare.
“Em. Wake up. Everything changed. Everything.”
Emmett: Em yawns, not wanting to let her tush him without a fight. He starts to stir, but then notices her position, and settles for wriggling under her instead.
“You won the lottery?” he asks meekly. “The president’s dead? Don’t worry, the Illuminati’ll choose another one.”
Support C: “Don’t do that. It’s distracting.” She swats his shoulder.
“I can’t tell you. But plans have changed. Okay? I need you to get ahold of Miranda, see if she’s got a way to remotely save video. Like, uh… streaming. To a private server or something. If she has a camera like that. Now. Like literally right now.”
Emmett: “Distracting how,” he teases, even as he reaches for his phone with one hand. He looks slightly more somber at her words, but still smiles at the sight of her.
“Tell me some of what’s going on,” he says, as he dials.
Support C: “Em. I can’t. Literally. They said if I told anyone, they’d kill me. And the person I told. And I like you, and I don’t want you to die, because if you die then I can’t come visit you and wake you up like this, only in the future maybe naked, yeah?” She’s talking much faster than she normally does, barely pausing for breath. Her eyes are bright.
“But I have a plan. Similar to what I told you last night. Only…” Celia reaches out, takes the phone from him, and ends the call.
“Never mind. I know someone else.”
Emmett: He likes it when she talks fast. Maybe he really is rubbing off on her. He nods along with everything she says, listening carefully. He raises an eyebrow as she hangs up the call, then nods again when she explains.
Then he asks, “Maybe naked?”
Support C: “Extra naked,” she promises him. “Hold that thought. I need…”
She rolls off of him and runs—slowly—to the other room. She returns with her laptop and reclaims her place on his lap, types into it, and sets it aside. Her phone is nearby.
“You have a part to play. But you can’t come with me. Okay?”
Emmett: He tilts his head, looking into her eyes with his own too-dark gaze.
“What part?” he asks finally, all the teasing gone from his voice.
Support C: “I’m getting my mom out. I was given some advice. And… if I do it the wrong way, the…” she trails off.
“There’s a guy who… uh. Bad guys, right? And let’s say… that my dad works for a bad guy. And the bad guy will come after me if I do a thing he doesn’t like, and he can’t be stopped by normal means. And so… I’m going in there. To see my dad. And get more, um, evidence. So like what I said earlier, basically, only now I have a bad guy I work for, but he’s a good guy, and he’s gonna… destroy the bad guys.”
Emmett: “You’re… not very good at explaining things,” he says.
But he doesn’t press her, just touches her gently.
“What do you need from me?”
Support C: Celia doesn’t answer. Just types into her laptop.
At a few points, she frowns.
Support E: The phone rings.
Support C: Celia presses her fingers against Em’s lips in a shushing motion before she picks up her phone.
Support E: There’s an overlong playing of piss-poor muzak, compressed into layers of awfully dissonant, scratchy tones, before Em hears a voice, equally distorted:
“Hello, Portal Tech Support. How can I help you today?”
Emmett: Em rolls his eyes.
And makes a jerking off gesture.
Support C: She raises a brow at Em, sliding her hand under the blanket. She can play that game.
“Um. Numba nine large?”
Emmett: He starts to tell her he was being derisive. Then he thinks better of it.
Then she says that, and he’s confused again.
Confused, aroused, and somewhere in there a little bit offended by the boldness of the passphrase.
Support E: “Please hold while I redirect you to a supervisor,” the man says, giggling. The muzak restarts from the beginning.
Emmett: Em gives her a flat look over the laptop.
Support C: Celia holds her thumb over the phone’s mic.
“What? You don’t want this?”
Emmett: “No, keep going, I just didn’t think we needed an elevator music accompaniment.”
Support C: “I’m calling my guy,” she says to him.
But she goes back to what she was doing with her hand.
Emmett: He leans forward and kisses her quickly before leaning back and letting her.
He’s rolling his eyes. But not at her.
Support E: The muzak cuts as a different voice spills out of the speaker, crystal clear and unmistakably Emil’s.
“I really need to update that passcode, don’t I? Terribly out of date humor. I do apologize about that. But hey! Two years, huh? Is everything all right?”
He sounds chipper.
Support C: “Well, you gave it to me years ago. I uh. I need some tech assistance. If you can help. A few things. Have some time?”
Emmett: That voice sounds familiar. Em blinks as he forgets he’s supposed to be quietly enjoying his handjob. “What the fuck?”
Celia stops what she’s doing, startled by his exclamation.
Emmett: “Is that…” He looks at the phone. “…that sounds like somebody I know. Sorry.”
Support E: “Well I’m all out of parsley, sage, and rosemary, but it seems you’re just in luck—” he jokes, before abruptly stating, “—interesting. Tell the guy you’re with not to use names.”
Emmett: Em rolls his eyes. “This guy. This fucking guy.”
Support C: “Uh, friend, no names,” she says to Em. But she watches his face, then presses the speaker button on her phone. “Do you two know each other?”
Emmett: “No names,” he says, voice dripping with sarcasm. “What, did he start a spy agency? After giving up on his film career?”
Support C: “Were you an actor?” she asks into the phone.
Support E: “World-renowned,” the voice drawls right back. “This is immensely interesting, you two know each other. What a pairing.”
Support C: “Do you two know each other?” She’s looking at Em as she asks, handjob forgotten for the moment.
Emmett: “If his name rhymes with A-Real-Pain, as in, in my ass, then yes. And I saved his life once, which I regretted immediately.”
Support E: “What did I say about names?” the voice groans from the speaker.
Emmett: “I don’t know, probably something that nobody was listening to.”
Support C: “Uh… I guess when you pronounce it like that, yes. So this is awkward.” She raises her brows at Em, mouths ‘tell me later’ to him.
“So hey, listen, friend on the phone. I need some tech help. You help?”
GM: Emmett largely tunes out the two’s exchange. There’s something about servers and livestreams and security cameras and deadman’s switches.
It’s less interesting than Celia.
Support C: “So you’re telling me I need to trust someone enough to do something on my behalf in case things go south.”
That question sounds directed at Em rather than Emil, and her brows raise toward the boy beneath her. She’d already had a job for him, and now apparently there’s a second.
“How long?” she asks.
Emmett: Em just listens, and watches her lazily. Happily.
Support E: “About ten.” The line clicks.
Support C: Celia stares at the phone in her hand.
“Ten what?” she asks aloud, but the line is already dead. Her lips purse as she looks back to Em, annoyed.
“I have two tasks for you, now. I’m going to get my mom. Then I’m going to deal with my dad. He,” she waves the phone, “is going to set up a thing. If I disappear, you make sure it gets out. Can you do that?”
Emmett: “If you give it to me? Yeah. Easy.”
Support C: “And if you don’t hear from me before 9 PM, I need you to meet someone for me. At the House of Blues. With a letter. Just hand it to him and leave, don’t linger, don’t make small talk, don’t… don’t do anything silly. Okay?” There is very real concern in her voice.
Support E: There’re three hard knocks at the door.
Support C: “You expecting someone?”
She’s off of Em and has a pair of sweats pulled on before he can think to complain, disappearing toward the door with wary caution.
A few moments pass.
“We’ve got company,” she calls loudly to Em, letting him know that if he’s going to come out the bedroom he should probably put some clothes on.
Emmett: He does not bother to put some clothes on. It’s his own apartment, dammit.
He walks into the other room in his boxers.
Support E: The man at the door isn’t Emil. But he’s wearing his face.
A plastic mask a few sizes too small presses into the man’s skin; Emil’s grinning visage is printed on it. A nylon thread struggles to hold it in place. There’s two red LEDs shining out of crudely cut eyeholes.
There’s a circular grate cut through Emil’s lips, with a stiff black fabric sitting behind it. A coiled black cable and earpiece sits on the side of his large head, hidden under a grey hoodie.
The man, wearing heavy combat boots, has an athletic build under the sweat uniform, yet he holds a long white cane. Its black strap is secured around his wrist. His broad shoulders make the backpack he wears look more fit for a child. Gloves cover his hands.
Emmett: Emmett stares.
Then he walks back into his bedroom. He’s too sober for this shit.
He wanders back into his living room a few minutes later, still in his boxers. They’re vintage Action Bill merch, with the man himself giving a thumbs up that bulges over the wearer’s crotch. The Danger Squad cover him from the back. He looks brighter-eyed, and there’s a joint dangling from his lips.
GM: ‘Emil’ has out a sleek black laptop. The screen seems to be playing recorded surveillance footage. The play button obscures the view of a large SUV. Isabel Flores is there, glancing intently at the trunk.
Support E: “…she wasn’t, your sister wouldn’t be keeping watch over her,” says ‘Emil’.
Emmett: “Cool, TV,” he says, when he sees the screen. He offers their guest the smoke. “Do you take turns riding each other, or is it a top and bottom thing?”
Support E: The larger man doesn’t react at all to Emmett’s question, nor his offer of the joint. The conman is treated to a view of the thick sinew of the masked man’s back, visibly defined even through the heavy sweatshirt.
Emil’s voice sounds painfully serious when he interrupts his own explanation.
“If you intend on entrusting Emmett with your recording, he needs to sober up. Now.”
Support C: She nods, jaw tight, as Emil explains, and finally looks over to Emmett.
“He’s always high. I think he functions better that way. And he won’t be getting the tape unless it falls through, which is obviously Plan B. Plan A is that…” she cuts herself off. Neither of them need to know. “Plan A is that I make it out.”
She turns her attention to Emil, gesturing at the laptop.
“What else? What else is after this? They went home and what? Stayed there?”
Emmett: Em feigns a look of offense at Emil’s suggestion. “What am I going to replace it with? Circumcision?”
He’s touched, though, by her standing up for him. It warms his heart. Or some part of him, anyways.
Support E: “There’s still more to look at in this video.”
The associate scrubs through the video as Emil continues to describe it. She can see her father’s face contort, shifting from composed into momentary grimaces. When he zooms, she can see the unbridled anger in Maxen’s eyes, the anticipation raising his blood pressure, reddening his skin.
“The person in the trunk, they were in danger in the evening. Your father was bloodthirsty, on edge, and ready to do whatever dirty work he intended once he reached your house. It’s been hours since this video was taken.”
“The person in the trunk is likely dead. Ninety percent of kidnapping victims taken to a secondary location do not survive. And if they aren’t, I wouldn’t dare imagine what torture they’re enduring as we speak.”
GM: The video is Maxen driving back to his house with the kids. They are utterly silent.
It sounds like Diana is in the trunk.
Celia and Emil exchange a few word, about how the tape was acquired. About what could happen. About how likely it is that Diana is dead or alive.
Maxen takes the kids inside, leaves Isabel to guard her mother in the trunk, then comes back out for his ex-wife.
“Scream and I will shoot you,” he says calmly.
There’s an acquiescent whimper.
Support E: “You don’t have to look, Celia. I can watch for you,” the voice suggests. The red eyes stare into the screen, whirring as they focus and refocus.
GM: The camera shows Maxen again. He’s dragging Celia’s mom along the path up to their house by her hair. She’s tied up and gagged. Her eyes are scrunched in equal parts pain and fear as she whimpers through the cloth.
Emmett: Em slips his hand in hers.
Breathe, he doesn’t say. He doesn’t have to.
If he had any doubts about being on the right side of a struggle that isn’t much his business, they’re gone now. He’s met Diana.
Maxen deserves whatever he has coming.
Support C: Her grip is tight around Em’s hand. She waves off Emil’s suggestion to look away. She watches every second.
“There are cameras in the house?” The sharp question is directed to Emil. Her eyes don’t leave the screen.
Support E: “In the walls… smart house… lights when you walk into the room… needs cameras,” he half explains, trailing off at the abrupt scene change.
GM: The rest of the video unfolds exactly how Em expected it would.
Exactly as he expected.
There are screams. Paicked babbling. Hopless, wretched, incohate sobbing. Maxen’s voice, between the smashing objects, dripping words of disdain and belittlement and cold fury.
Em knows what Celia’s father is about to say before he says it:
“Take off your clothes.”
Support C: Color rises to Celia’s cheeks. She doesn’t look at Emmett or Emil. Her hand curls into a fist, nails digging into her palm.
“Look away.” To both of them.
Emmett: Em goes to the kitchen.
The sounds are muffled. But when he hears Diana crying, he brings Celia a mug.
Tea. Like after her rape.
He doesn’t look at the screen. The sounds are enough.
Support C: Her eyes close when she hears the fly unzip. She finally turns away, draws her knees up to her chest, covers her face with her hands. The offering of tea is ignored.
GM: The ensuing sound quality isn’t the best. It’s garbled and fast forwarded. The recording fast forwards through the deed.
There’s a sobbing sound, on seemingly endless playback. Manic-sounding from how fast it’s being played. Eh-he-he-he-he-he.
“We’re not finished, Diana.”
“We’re just getting started.”
“Clean all of this up. You know where the cleaning supplies are. I want this place spotless.”
Support C: “How far back does it go? The footage. Years? Is old stuff saved?”
Her voice is ragged. She wipes at her eyes. She breathes slowly.
GM: There’s more indistinct sounds. Something like plastic. Then a running sink, which abruptly cuts off.
Support E: “There’s only so much footage you can store. Maybe… maybe…”
GM: “I have something for you, Diana,” says Celia’s dad.
Screams answer him.
“We won’t be interrupted this time.”
Support C: One moment Celia is on the couch. The next she is not.
She is gone, the door slamming shut behind her.
Emmett: “Whoa. Did she…”
Em glances around. “Did you see her go?”
Support E: “I—after today, Emmett, after you leave this room, after you get down off this high, you need to know that none of this happened, your drugs were laced with psychedelics.”
Emmett: Em eyes him. “You want to stay here for when she comes back?”
Emil notices his Action Bill and the Danger Squad boxers. They’re super rare.
Support E: “I’ve turned off the feed for my associates. It doesn’t exist anymore, nothing onward.”
“But I’m watching it now.”
Emmett: “Well, if you want to watch it here, you’ll share. And you’ll stop talking to me like I didn’t save your fool life.”
Em sits on the couch, his legs spread. “Your guy under there want a drink?”
Support E: There’s that same buzzing in the man’s earpiece, then he picks up the laptop and types the words ‘No, but thanks for asking, Emmett,’ into a text document which he turns so Em can see it.
He types a few more buttons and the stream of the house opens on Emmett’s television. He goes to deadbolt the door, his earpiece buzzing the whole way through, and then he returns to his seat.
“All right, let’s see what she’s doing to that monster.”
Emmett: “Sounds good to me.”
He tries to ignore the surreality of Emil’s face on somebody else’s and focus on the feed.
“Wait, is she… already there?”
But that swiftly becomes the least of his questions.
GM: They watch it all play out.
It ends with Celia blurring out of the house with her mom held like a limp potato sack.
This is real. He knows it’s real. Emil’s snark aside, he can tell the difference between a bad trip and shit that feels like it should be a bad dream.
He’s been in a bad dream like this before.
“Fuck,” he says again. “She’s a superhero.”
GM: It seems like an open question whether he ever woke up.
Support E: “If you ever let any one know, they’ll kill the both of you,” the voice says robotically.
Emmett: “Which they? The X-Men?”
Support E: “Do you care about her, Emmett?” It’s spoken genuinely.
Emmett: “Apparently,” he says, surprising himself. “I’m more worried for her than scared of her. So I guess.”
Support E: “She trusts you. Should she?”
Emmett: “Why shouldn’t she? She’s the most interesting thing to happen to me since jail.”
Support E: “Because you have a history of lying to people you care about. Of hurting them,” the voice says bluntly.
GM: This has happened before.
Emmett: Em takes a slow drink of the tea Celia didn’t touch. Then he says, “You seem to feel awfully superior to me, for somebody who talked about starting a religious movement with me at the center. And who wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t decided to put myself in jeopardy by helping.” He gives Emil an icy, icy stare through those red eyes. Wherever he is, whatever dark hole he’s hiding in to forget about all the people he’s fucked over, the man feels cold. “I’m going to say it one more time. You’re not going to question my relationships, Kane. And I won’t question yours. Not if you want anything from me, ever again. Not if you don’t want me to bad-mouth you so hard to Celia she cuts ties with you, too. You understand that?”
“Because if you don’t, there’s the door.” He points.
GM: The video keeps playing in Celia’s room.
All of it.
Isabel laughs and laughs and laughs.
Emmett: “Fuck,” Em says, again. He’s too numb to be mad at Emil. “Wow. She’s… wow.”
He finds himself, absurdly, reaching for not-Emil’s hand. He needs to touch someone.
Needs to know there is something more than this.
Support E: There’s a buzzing in his ear, and then not-Emil grips Emmett’s just as tightly. “I’m so sorry, Emmett.”
The static sobs.
“I really am.”
Emmett: “Yeah,” Em says, watching. “Me too.”
Then he says, “She’s going to need friends. Celia. After this.”
Support E: “She needs better friends than us. But we’re what she has. So we have to do bett—”
Then there’s the sound of footsteps from the television, and Emil goes silent.
GM: The two men see their source.
Enough of it.
Then the camera shorts out.
Support E: The image runs back and forward in time, and grayscale tears rip across as the screen. And then it pauses on the final frame.
On that face.
GM: Maxen’s face.
“The house. Her sister. We need to call 911. Can you bounce the call, or something?”
Support E: “They have arrived.”
A buzz sounds. The man who is not Emil points a gloved finger at the devil’s face.
“He owns the police.”
“They own him.”
Emmett: “Not the police,” Em says. “Ambulance.”
Support E: “Everything is connected. Everyone is listening. Hell is empty and the devils are all here.”
Emmett: “Can you do it?” he asks again. “The girl. Maxen might not.”
Support E: “There are rules about this, Emmett. They don’t want to be seen. They don’t want to be known. The fewer people involved, the fewer people die.”
Emmett: “What they. They who.”
Support E: “The Catholics’ greatest hubris was in assuming that their sin starts in their hearts and ends in a confessional.”
“Sin gestates in the gutters of the church. Sin mingles in the sewers with the discarded holy water. Sin dives into the depths to take form.”
“And one man or another stares down into the abyss. And eventually, Sin stares back.”
The quiet erupts into the sound of the darkest depths. Maxen’s face shatters into an avalanche of snow, and white noise swallows all.
Support E: The snow undulates on the screen, a great sea parting and coming together. The black gaps that are torn open when the sea parts are alive and filled with mouths, stretched wide open by ink-covered hands until the jaws threaten to snap apart.
The gestalt cries out at Emmett.
It screams for their mothers. For their fathers. For Gods they forgot to believe in. For the sins they’ve carried out and forgotten to admit. For all the pain to end; for their mouths to finally shut.
But it is the nature of the gestalt to lose all self. For all the screams and prayers to be shunted into meaningless babble. Everyone screams for the same things, but nothing is heard. Nothing but white noise.
The waves of static crash into the dark mass of writhing mouths, smothering their cries. But another window into the darkness is opened as the static shallows.
The screen focuses not on the gaping mouths within, but on the precipice of the writhing shallowing of darkness. There’s a fishing boat riding over the static, standing precariously close to the edge. And beside them juts an island out of the waters. Atop the island, which is covered in shining jewels, sits the Fisher King on his ivory stump, his crown nearly slipping off his head.
The fisherman throws his line into the great maw of the dark, and from the writhing masses pulls a single screaming mouth. And the mouth has a face that appears when it comes flailing out of the water into the static. It’s bald and ugly and red-faced. The fishhook stabs through the man’s head.
The fisherman examines the bald thing on the hook as it tries to extend a suited hand. It looks pathetic, for surely it knows it is too late to make deals. He’s already hooked. The fisherman holds the man in his arms like a babe, then brings him to his face and opens his mouth, revealing two blood-red fish-hooks jutting out of its roof.
He bites through the man’s chest and rips his heart out. It’s bound with tight ropes. He crushes it with his jaws, and oily black fluid spurts out all over the boat. A drop or two falls in the bald man’s mouth as his body drops to the deck of the ship, his arm still extended, waiting for a handshake that will never come.
The screen floods with the static snow.
Then, a voice befitting a nature doc narrator speaks in dulcet tones, “Peredur lived among witches when he found his one true love…And the Fisher King’s servant brought out the head to Peredur on a platter, who waited far too long to act on his destiny. And the head was that of his cousin. And Peredur learned he was in the line of the Fisher King, and rose to action, for he found his cousin was killed by the witches, though some say it was witch hunters, for Peredur sought them for his king’s acceptance.”
“And the servant who held up that platter had little respect for the young Peredur, for Peredur knew little of fishing, while he had fished for generations. Some say the servant made deals with witches to better understand the fish, and that in the moonlight, his eyes were unlike that of any human. Instead, they were like those of the hungriest of sharks.”
The audio commentary melts into something grainy and unintelligible, and then Emmett sees something else forming on the screen.
The waters are black as they gush from the bound heart. The moonlight reflects off them, reducing their cusps and contours to streaks of moving light.
It’s far too quiet now. The sound of the white noise dulls his senses, stuffing his ears with cotton and blinding his eyes to seeing anything beyond rectangular specks of black and white. Something is waiting beneath the surface.
A diving woman swims out into the open ocean. Oily handprints still stain the skin around her jaw, but those are nothing but past scars. Today she’s free, to go anywhere. Be anything. Separated from the gestalt, the possibilities seem endless.
But there is always something watching. No place you can be truly free when there are those who cut through the static like you walk on land.
The woman breaks the surface of the inky water, and finds it impenetrable to her view from above. She pulls herself up into the massive fishing boat, where the fisherman servant to the Fisher King had sat.
But he’s not there.
There’s a bald man in a suit with an ink-covered arm extended. His heart has been ripped out, leaving an inky pit in its place. There’s a hole that a fishhook once pierced.
Beside him is a dark-haired girl, or perhaps its just her hair is drenched in the oil. She’s curled into a ball and caressing her leg, which is wrapped in static fishing line. It cuts deep welts into her flesh.
Then the screen turns dark. And he hears it. Screaming. Awful. The grinding of flesh on rock, of hooks stabbing and shearing.
And then there’s that face pushing through the screams, here and not here. Nearly pressing out of the television.
And the room is plunged into ice at its stare. The servant fisherman stares right into Emmett’s eyes. Then he starts to open his mouth, and the fishhooks look like sharp teeth jutting out, ready to bite.
Then a splash and the ice recedes, as the static sea swallows the diver whole, and the weight of the world above drags her lower and lower into the abyss.
The shark-eyed servant dives too, into the murky depths, unencumbered by the static and the oil.
The nature doc narrator speaks again, his voice cutting through the thickness of the waters. “Due to a peculiar organ called the olfactory bulb, great white sharks can smell a drop of blood from three miles away!”
“Once a shark finds a target, they never give up on the hunt. Blood giveth way to deeper blood. They’re watching.”
“Donovan,” Celia’s voice pierces through Emmett’s head, clear as the cold night sky.
They take what they want.
You know you are theirs.
They’re on a boat now, fishing together. And there is the shape of a woman made of pure jade, to whose face a mask is tied, Celia’s face painted on it, smiling.
They open their mouths and fishhooks jut out blood-red and dripping with hunger.
The view draws back, and Emmett sees the true extent of the unmentionable They. Seventy and seven fishing boats sit at the perilous circumference of the pit of gestalt screaming. Fishermen stand at the ready in each one, a pair of fishhooks jutting out of the rooves of each of their mouths. Each of them fish humans out of the pit, dragging them screaming into their boats on their barbed lines. They bite through their flesh and then toss them back, limp, into the pit.
The static flows on the screen as the view pushes in on a few fishermen paddling from the glimmering island of the Fisher King. But fishhooks do not jut out of their mouths, and there still remains oil on their skin, covered by the thick clothing of ferrymen.
They pull down the way of the dark flow.
And the one holding the long-stemmed paddle turns to the other, and speaks in soft tones. “Just around the river bend, we’ll find the one who’s near her end.”
“Hold your tongue until you die, for They are watching you and I.” The paddle moves, and it seems to stretch down eternally into the oil.
The men remove their black cowls and whip the lashes of their fishing rods into the oily darkness.
And that’s when he sees it. It’s him, sitting down in the fishing boat, though his handsome face is rendered monstrous, drenched in the thick black oil. Barbed fishing line is wound tightly around his legs, and further spurts of oil leak out where the wire breaks his skin.
The oil-drenched Emmett looks with harrowed eyes out of the television, into the similarly harrowed eyes of his twin sitting on the couch. He’s holding his father’s tackle box, old and rusted, but free of oil-stains.
And he sees the face of the other man, and he is Emil, mostly. He has eight eyes in place of his two, which stare out in all different directions. The hairs of his skin stand up at attention and stamp themselves down into his pores, forcing the black oil from leaking out into the world.
“Why save her, if she’s going to lose it all?”
“We aren’t saving her. We’re making her whole again.”
The lines tug, and with a pull of the rod, the two men find their catch. It’s a damp mop of black hair mostly, with the oil-drenched body of a girl attached. She’s missing far too much, far more than they are equipped to repair.
Her face is gone, punched out. There’s nothing left inside, nothing to see beyond the oil. But something further is missing.
It sits in their tackle box.
Her leg has gone gangrenous and black from the sharp wire digging far deeper than could be construed as pleasant. Emmett can smell it even through the mask of the television. Dead. Horrid. Unmentionable.
“She doesn’t need health where she’s going. She needs to be whole, a façade is all that’s necessary, a mold for what is to come.”
And the oil-covered Emmett stabs the crude appendage back onto her foot. There’s a slick crunch as the metal rod that affixes it forces its way into place.
She doesn’t scream. She can’t. But the hole in her face shakes violently in protest and the oil that pools in the gap spills out into the form of the ship.
Emil bends to whisper something into the woman’s ear to give her something else. Another thing she’s lost. And Emmett can hear it, if just barely.
“Though your heart may rest in pious hands, your name shall reside with rocks and sand.”
There’re two things to do when you catch a carp, Emmett. Either you kill it quick or you let it go. Anything else is cruel.
The pair heave the body, and finally, let it drop. There’s a splash, and then the seafoam static swallows the scene once more.
GM: But from the static, a face emerges.
And behind the face, an apartment.
He is coming.
Emmett: Em stares at the screen. He dares not blink, lest the closing of his eyes destroy the madman’s montage playing out on the mob-fenced television. His teeth chatter, though it is not cold. Tea, merely warm instead of scalding, sloshes from his lopsided mug onto his groin, ruining the mint-condition cotton thumb of Action Bill and staining his couch besides. He does not notice.
It is only when that face emerges, clearer and somehow more chilling than any of the macabre omens that preceded it, only when the television makes a promise he cannot ignore, that he blinks.
Then he reaches between the cushions and pulls out a gun.
Support E: Then there’s a buzz, and it’s when he looks to his side that he sees not-Emil disconnecting a cable from the laptop and stuffing it and the laptop into his backpack. He’s holding a black, metal hard drive.
Emmett: “Ah, damn, the ammo’s in there somewhere.” He rummages under the cushions for a second and pulls out a clip.
Support E: Another buzz, and then he turns to see the gun.
“What the hell are you doing with that thing?” He sounds cold, pumped through with adrenaline.
Emmett: “Exercising my Second Amendment rights,” he says as he loads it. “Your boy have a car outside?”
He considers slapping Emil when he doesn’t immediately answer, but then realizes it probably won’t translate.
Support E: He turns off the television, and the monster’s face disappears into blackness.
He sticks his head into the bag and when it comes out, he isn’t wearing Emil’s face. But his true face is covered by a skintight black mask.
“Outside. Now.” He sounds frazzled, but focused, as the blind man throws the backpack over his shoulders and heads to the door, before looking behind and chiding,
“And get your finger off the goddamned trigger! It’s not a toy.”
There’s a rushing noise, and then the sound of sliding before a series of taps, and then more rushing, more sliding, before the sound fades out.
This man is used to running.
Emmett: So is Em.
When Emmett emerges from the apartment precious moments later, he’s still wearing the crotch-stained Action Bill and the Danger Squad underwear, but he’s weighed down by a bulky-looking duffel bag.
It takes him a few moments to catch up to his “guest.”
Support E: It takes even fewer for the perfectly average-looking car to drive by. A door opens and strong arms rip him off the street and throw Emmett into the car.
The door slams. It never stopped moving. Now it’s going faster.
Emmett: “Fuck!” he yelps.
He barely manages to hold onto the gun. He’s still brandishing it as he sits up. “Who!”
Support E: “Put the gun down, you maniac. Use your head.”
There’s someone else driving. The black-masked man still speaks with Emil’s voice, as he scrubs through the video on his laptop, picking out unsatisfactory pieces of film and cutting them out with a few clicks.
“Who do you think?”
Emmett: “Jesus—fuck!” He lowers the gun, but keeps it close. “Is that the footage? Where are you sending it?”
Support E: “It is. And I’m not. You are. All clear?” The gloved fingers of the blind man move strikingly fast over the keyboard.
Support E: It’s quiet for a moment excepting the sound of tapping plastic keys.
“That was the sound of me waiting for you to ask a question so you can be made clear. Go.”
Emmett: Oh. Now he’s the wiseass.
“What are you planning?” Em asks. “And what about Celia? What about… him?”
Support E: “I’m planning on doing what I promised Celia I’d do, and that is getting this hard drive to the person she trusts. Right now, that’s you.”
“On this drive,” he says, and with a buzz has the man hold it in the air, “there is a single program which accesses a secure server that holds the video I just edited. I stripped it down to essentials. Celia isn’t in there. Nothing they wouldn’t want seen is in there. Whoever has this drive controls the fate of her father. She likely gave you instructions on how to handle it from there.”
“Don’t tell me them. We need to keep our minds clean of excess knowledge. I already let you see far too much.”
With a buzz, not-Emil hands Emmett the drive.
Emmett: “Fuck,” he says, trying to process that. “Okay. Okay. Is she…” Alive? he doesn’t trust himself to say it. Instead he clears his throat, opens the bugout bag and rifles through it for a shirt, which he swiftly pulls on. He tucks the letter that he pulled off the table, the one Celia wants him to give to the guy at House of Blues, into the bag as well.
“Where are you going to drop me?” Em says, as he continues to pull on clothes.
He takes the drive and it joins the letter in the bag.
Support E: “No dropping. We’ll be driving until dawn. But we’ll be swapping cars soon enough. Can’t risk someone catching our trail. There’s a pickup coming up through across an unmonitored alley in about ten.”
“In the meantime, I’ve taken the liberty of breaking into your apartment’s surveillance setup and replacing all recent footage of you, Celia, or me entering or exiting the building with generic footage.”
Emmett: “My apartment doesn’t have—wait, what?” His head is spinning. “What happens at dawn?”
Support E: “It does. They just don’t tell you. Helps keeps their insurance bills down. And what happens at dawn, is that They go to ground. Get ready.”
“7. 6. 5—”
The door slides open as a great amount of buzzing occurs in the man’s ear. The pair jump out whether Emmett is ready or not, with their backpack and duffel bag.
They’re running out and the movement shuts the car door back. Another car pulls up on the other end of the alley. Not-Emil points out the few cameras that were deactivated so they could make their way unseen. Easy to ignore as the pickup opens the door and once again Emmett is thrown into the car before not-Emil jumps in.
The door shuts again. Not-Emil breathes a sigh of relief.
Emmett: “They—wait, what.”
He runs. He ignores Emil’s tour-guiding.
He slams the door shut beside him. “How many times are we doing this?”
Support E: “As many as it takes. I have cars all over the city. Bulk purchase. Donations. What have you. Drivers don’t ask many questions.”
Emmett: Em stops asking questions. He has a feeling the answers will only make his head spiral more.
He cooperates, though, and falls into the pattern. It’s like track. Sprint spurts between rests.
Where to stay, during the day? His apartment’s probably unsafe. Miranda? Maybe a Pavaghi? His sister? Fucking Taylor?
Support E: Regardless of where it is, Emil’s not gonna be there. Or maybe he will. He keeps his associate’s lips so tightly shut Emmett can’t even see them. Though the mask might be the cause of that more than Emil’s secrecy.
He warns Emmett again on the importance of keeping all of this to himself. All of it. A lick of this releases and everyone they love dies.
He provides a change of clothes for Emmett and himself at each car swap, and they get to see much of the city, though its beauty is hard to appreciate running from certain death.
Right before they diverge, as they spend the last few swaps in separate cars to distance themselves, Emil shares one more pearl of wisdom.
Not-Emil opens the door to let Emmett out and tells him, “I figured you two were sleeping together and you might not be able to do that anymore. So I thought it might help if I let you know.”
“Celia’s your cousin.”
The door slams shut and the tires squeal, leaving Emmett alone in an alley.
Thursday morning, 2 April 2009
Emmett: Emmett swears.
He staggers through the morning light, duffel bag knocking against his side like it’s trying to pull him back. The early, bleach-colored sunlight hurts his eyes. He wants a smoke so bad his lungs crave a cough. His head pounds with a come-down he should have known was coming.
He walks. Buys a hot-dog from a stand. The guy behind the counter’s wearing an eyepatch, and he looks sorry for Em.
Say what you like about me, Em thinks ruefully, I’m too good to wear a costume to sell hot dogs. Even if I did fuck my—
He manages to keep the hot dog down, with effort. His mouth tastes like mustard, but it goes down his throat like mustard gas.
Emmett: He passes a woman selling flowers. He buys the reddest ones. They stig his nose and he sneezes in the face of a homeless man, who he only momentarily recognizes as a private detective he hired a few weeks back.
“Sorry,” he says, and keeps walking.
He ends up in Marigny. The sun’s rising, and its rays are beating him into the ground.
He gets to the door he doesn’t realize he’s been walking to, and knocks.
GM: There’s no immediate answer.
She isn’t much on an early riser either.
Em has to bang and pound his fists until they hurt before a shadow darkens the peephole.
The door opens. Sami’s wearing a black nightgown and looks like she just got out of bed. Her hair is mussed, her face isn’t made up, and her expression looks none too pleased at being woken up early. Her eyes are crusted with sleep. It’s a rather less sexy picture than their normal dates.
Emmett: He isn’t on his knees. That would lay it on too thick. But then, he doesn’t need to lay it on much at all. The tears glittering on his cheeks, tracing the shape of his face, are real enough.
She has only seen him cry like this once before. On the worst night of both their lives.
“I need you,” Em whispers. “I need, I need help, Sami. There’s nobody else. Please. Please let me in. I need you.”
He looks like death.
Will she turn him away, he wonders? Her best client, and the only person who says he really loves her and thinks he means it?
He is desperate, but he is cynical, too.
Sami Watts likes it when he needs her.
GM: She looks at him for a moment.
Then she undoes the switch, opens the door, and lets him collapse into her arms. Her fingers are so soft as they run through his hair.
“What the fuck have you gotten into…”
She kicks the door closed.
Emmett: My cousin.
He shakes his head. It’s too much to tell her.
“It’s like it was. Monsters. Things. They won’t find me, but I can’t go home. I tried to help her. I tried to do the right thing, but I think the monsters know who I am now and I can’t go back.”
He hugs her to him.
Hating himself. Loving her. Both. The same. A snake, eating its tail.
GM: They sink onto Sami’s bed. Em’s not sure when they do. It’s not day yet, not really, but it’s bright enough he doesn’t need the lights on to make out her face. Dawn’s navy shadows suit her. That in-between time and space where the monsters might be gone, but maybe they aren’t, and Em doesn’t know where he stands, where he doesn’t know anything, except that needs someone, someone as broken and damaged as he is, because it’s is fault, and maybe it is this time too, and—
She’s warm. She’s soft. She’s there.
“Fuck,” she mutters.
Emmett: There. And that’s so much more than anybody else.
“Fuck,” she says, and he hears it as a command, the way he’s been trained to for a year.
Fuck. All he’s good for. All he’s good at. Fuck. The only thing he can offer.
He pulls at her nightgown, dries his tears on her thighs. He does what he’s good at. He rewards her for her love, her pride, her hospitality.
He worships her.
When they’re done, Em just wants to sleep. Not talk. He barely has the willpower to set an alarm for himself.
GM: Em’s gotten head from Sami lots of times, though it’s his first time giving it to her. She seems to enjoy it, twisting the sheets in her hands and gasping as her back arches with her climax. He’s not met many women who didn’t enjoy, from him. Any, really.
The last words he makes out before they collapse into sleep together are a sighed, “This is a bad idea.”
Emmett: If only you knew, baby, he thinks.
Thursday morning, 2 April 2009
GM: Em is jolted awake what feels like barely any time later by pounding fists against Sami’s door.
“NOPD! Open up! Now!”
Emmett: He’s already having a nightmare. The reality doesn’t take more than a second to adjust to. He’s still waking up as he presses his lips to Sami’s ear as she starts awake. “Sixty seconds. Get the door in sixty seconds. Lie. I’m not here, I never was. They don’t know anything. Ask to see a warrant.” Then he moves. Close to the floor, way the fuck out of the line of sight of any of the windows.
His heart is thumping. But he doesn’t have time to be knocked over by it. He takes five seconds to decide. Out the window or hide? Hiding’s bad if they know he’s here. But they don’t. They just think he might be? Right?
It’s a gamble. But if he leaves, and they’re waiting for him, he’s fucked anyways.
He hides. He’s tired of running, and if they’re going to get him, better Sami sees him go out. He’s not letting them take him.
The bag he stuffs in her closet under a pile of clothes. Sami’s plenty messy and always has been. That takes fifteen seconds, including the time it takes to grab the drive, the letter, and the gun. The flowers come with him, too. He looks like he’s visiting the grave, one way or another.
It’s a nice apartment, but it’s still an apartment. Not many places to hide. Except, he’s been over here before. She has one of those sort-of closets that aren’t really closets, a hole in the wall covered with a plaster lid. It goes straight to the pipes, and he grits his teeth as he squeezes in, delicately pulls the lid back into place. It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. Easier if Sami’s half-dressed and running interference.
Moving slowly, not rushing it, not scalding his ass on the hot pipes behind him. Thirty seconds bleed by while the big bad wolf huffs and puffs and threatens to bring the house down.
Ten seconds to crouch, still his breathing, close his eyes, and listen.
But not pray. Never pray. His prayer is the gun in his hand.
GM: The big bad wolf does more than threaten. Sami has barely started talking when Em hears the door burst open. Heavy footsteps tromp through the apartment.
It doesn’t sound like they particularly care about a warrant.
Em catches flashes of blue uniforms and scowling expressions from his hiding place. The cops question Sami. She plays innocent. They bring up her whoring. She still plays innocent. Hasn’t seen an Emmett Delacroix.
Em hears something heavy smashing. A low voice swearing.
The footsteps tromp away.
The apartment door closes. Lightly.
Sami looks around a moment, then pulls open the lid. She’s half-dressed in the same nightie.
GM: “You’re buying me a new TV,” she says.
Emmett: “A bigger and better one,” he agrees.
GM: The screen has been smashed in. There’s a few sparks going up. Sami unplugs it.
“What the fuck did you do? Those cops didn’t even grope me.”
Emmett: He retrieves the duffel bag and pulls out a few wads of cash held together with rubber bands. He leaves them on her pillow, like complimentary chocolates from a hotel that understands real service.
“The right thing,” he says in response to her question, after a too-long pause. “It’s always the right thing that gets me in trouble.” He shakes his head and grapples around her nightstand for the pack of cigarettes she keeps there. He clutches a few and slides them into his pocket. His lungs are begging to be set on fire. “The less you know about it, the happier you’ll be.”
He checks the time, too.
GM: Less than an hour since they went to bed. Em knows (from experience) that cops like to raid people’s houses early in the morning. Even the hardest partiers are usually asleep, disoriented when they get woken abruptly up, and it’s the time people are most likely to be home.
Emmett: He clutches his head. How long until they double back? He has to figure some hours at least. But wait too long, they might send somebody to sit on the apartment, watch for him. He’s pretty sure they do that on TV.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck. Fuck the pope, and the kids in his bed.
He is never doing the right thing again. He stumbles into the kitchen and dials Miranda’s cell. He doesn’t know why he’s memorized it. Maybe because it’s one of the few he actually looks forward to dialing.
GM: Em just gets a look from Sami over “doing the right thing,” but she doesn’t say anything he doesn’t want to hear when he leaves the cash on her pillow.
It’s what she’s best at.
The phone rings for as many times as Em usually likes to make people wait to show he isn’t desperate.
“What?” comes the groggy-sounding voice of another girl who sounds equally pleased to be woken up early.
Emmett: “You up for some civic disobedience?”
GM: “It better be good to be this early,” Miranda grogs.
Emmett: “Only if you’re able to take it, Super Saiyan. Look, you remember telling me about robocalls? And messages? All that? Is there any reason you couldn’t set something up to flag a police precinct with a bunch of calls and emails and the like?”
“Particularly of false sightings that happen to carry my description?”
GM: “Yeah, it’s basically a limp-dicked version of swatting.”
“That can get people killed.”
There’s a thick giggle.
Emmett: “Yeah, well, with how bad they’re looking for me, this might too. So be careful. Cover your ass, but if you can get them running all over the city…” he glances back at the other room, then lowers his voice and cups the phone’s mouthpiece. “I will do things to you that will make you happy for the wheelchair the whole next day.”
GM: “Ohhh, like what things?”
She’s never been one for innuendo.
There a crunch from the phone’s receiver like she’s already eating.
There’s a glug, then a loud belch.
Emmett: “I’ll keep you guessing. Just stay safe, okay?”
GM: “Eh who cares about that.”
“But okay. I can keep the pigs oinking.”
Emmett: “I do. Don’t get hurt. And thanks. I owe you one.”
GM: “Yeah you will.” There’s another thick giggle. “Oink oink oink.”
Emmett: “Oink,” he agrees, thinking again about the big bad wolf, and hangs up.
He briefly worries about his parents. What will they think, when the police knock down their door?
Probably nothing new.
He briefly regrets not telling her to send them to Ron’s place.
GM: Regrets are nothing new for a Delacroix either.
Thursday night, 2 April 2009, PM
GM: Em gets out and hails a cab. Falafel Joe is happy to drive him through the city. Em doesn’t care where. So long as they keep driving. Em sits in that cab for over 12 hours, interspersed by a few food and bathroom breaks. There’s also an ATM stop. The cabbie’s fee climbs into the quadruple digits and he doesn’t want to accept credit cards. By the time it’s over, it’s the most expensive cab ride of Em’s life, but his driver seems well-pleased. He even insists on buying Em some of the shawarmas that are his daily lunch. They’re mutton, pita, lettuce, yogurt, and lots of sauce.
Joe drops him off outside the House of Blues in the French Quarter.
He’s not sure he’ll ever get the smell of hummus gas out of these clothes.
He’s not sure he’ll ever get Middle Eastern discothèque out of his head.
Joe looks absolutely delighted, though, by what might well be the most lucrative day of his career.
“You need a ride any time, any blace, no questions, you call Joe!” he waves, even leaving Em with his cell number.
Emmett: He thinks he’s a genius, at first. It’ll be pricey, but cops never stop cabs—terrible impression to make on tourists. Four hours into the hummus-stinking journey, he’s mellowed considerably. He sleeps, badly, but it’s a good bad sleep, that straddles the edges of wakefulness while sparing him the worst rigors of a conscious mind. When Joe brings him the pita-wrapped, dripping schwarmas, he devours them ravenously.
12 hours pass. They aren’t comfortable, or particularly pleasant. But they’re safe, and he knows what to expect during them.
That may make it the best way he could have spent his money.
And spend it he does. He’s broke outside the House of Blues. He steals a drunken tourist’s wallet and walks inside the place stinking of hummus and cigarettes and bad ideas.
It’s 8:50. He sits at the bar, buys a drink, and looks for a cop. You can always tell a cop by how they carry themselves, somebody told him in OPP once. Like they’ve got a bad back that doesn’t have the right to break yet.
GM: Said to be “hard to find and harder to leave,” the New Orleans House of Blues is a combination live music venue, bar and restaurant named one of the city’s “hidden venues,” though it remains part of a larger franchise.
Em doesn’t see any cops outside.
But he does see someone else.
She is a cold, haughty beauty, with high cheekbones, porcelain-pale features, and lustrous brown hair, but it’s a beauty that makes Em’s skin crawl. It’s not the pretty kind of beauty. It’s the terrible kind. The kind that can do unspeakable things, like never once smiling, and still look beautiful. It reminds him of the woman with the poison eyes. She wears a white trench coat, black leather gloves, and felt hat.
Knowing his luck, she is undoubtedly looking for someone.
Emmett: Knowing his luck, he can bet who.
He walks into the place next door, careful not to let her see him.
Then he uses his shitty burner phone’s internet access to find the House of Blues number, squinting at the tiny screen. He dials it.
GM: “House of Blues,” greets a man’s voice after several rings. Blues music is faintly audible.
Emmett: “Call for a Pete. Tell him it’s from Celia.”
GM: There’s a wait.
“Pete,” comes a voice in the firm sort of tone Em has already learned to associate with law enforcement officers.
“From what I hear your voice is a little deep to be a Celia.”
Emmett: “She sent me,” he says without preamble. “But you’ve got a problem out front. Scary-looking bitch with a trench coat. I saw her before she saw me. Can you get to the place next door?” He gives him the name.
“Without her seeing you?”
GM: “Could try. But it’s a gamble.” He doesn’t say why. “I’m guessing you’ve got something for me.”
“Pay someone there to drop it off at the Evergreen Plantation. I’ll reimburse you.”
Oh. He’s broke.
Emmett: “I’m broke,” he mutters. “I’ll have to do it myself. Or—“
He pauses. “I’m Emmett Delacroix. You heard my name in the last few hours? Thanks to all this shit, I’m wanted. And you’re a detective. You following my train of thought?”
GM: “Oh, is that so? Are you giving yourself in, Emmett?”
Emmett: “Long as you’re the one who takes me in. And as long as you can promise I’m not dead as soon as I set foot into a precinct.” He isn’t sure if the other man can hear the exhaustion in his voice. “I’ve had a really long day, and I’ve probably fucked up my life more than can be unfucked. So as long as you do what you promised her you’d do…it doesn’t really matter what happens to me. Are you gonna come take me in, or not?”
He clears his throat. “Um. Sir.”
GM: “Okay. I can do both promises. Hang tight,” says Pete.
“What are you wearing?”
Emmett: He laughs. “I’ll be the best-looking guy in the bar.” He describes his clothes. “You won’t miss me. You’ll smell hummus.”
GM: He’s approached a little while later by a girl who flirts with him, saddles up close, and whispers in his ear, “Pete said you had something to pass on.”
Emmett: He passes it to her. “It’s never the other package they’re looking for,” he grouses.
GM: The girl smirks and heads off.
A little while later, he’s approached by a short and stocky gray-eyed man with dark hair and the unmistakable demeanor of a cop. “Emmett Delacroix?” he asks.
Emmett: “That’s what it says on my underwear,” he says, and holds out his wrists.
GM: The cuffs snap on. He hears the Miranda warning he’s heard enough times to have memorized himself.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”
Emmett: “…read to you?” he finishes reciting along.
“Yeah. Let’s roll.”