“Wait!” said Krissy. “There’s something else. When Danny drove up, he was wearing a mask. Or it looked like it, all black. But he must have taken it off because when he pulled up it was off. But I know I saw it. That’s weird, isn’t it?”
“Could you see any of his face? When he had the mask on?”
“No, but . . . it was dark. Why would he do that? Is Molly okay? Do you think they’ll take her to the pound?”
“Uh, if you go around and talk to the police, they’ll explain everything.”
As I walked away, John thanked Krissy for her cooperation and let her know that we would contact her if any more leads developed. He hurried to catch up with me and said, “Fuck! Dave! The shadow people. She saw a fucking shadow people . . . person.”
“The what people?”
“You know goddamned well. Those things, the men made of shadow we saw in Vegas. They’re here. Or at least one of them is. I’ve seen them, Dave. I’ve seen them around.”
“No, they’re not and no, you haven’t.”
When our butts landed in my car a minute later, John lit up another cigarette and asked, “Okay, what now?”
THE THING ABOUT video game basketball is that the computer decides whether or not the ball goes in when you shoot. So say you’re playing against the computer team, you’re down by one and let’s say you take a last-second shot to win the game. It’s the same program you’re playing against that decides whether or not the digital ball goes through the digital hoop on that final shot. So it can arbitrarily make you lose or arbitrarily let you win. The whole thing is bullshit.
But we were playing anyway, on my sofa. John was Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and I was the Chicago Bulls, led by Pierre Manslapper (you can name your own players if you want). It was an hour after the thing with Molly and the dead weather guy.
“So,” John said, glancing at his watch. “You think the cops talked to Wexler?”
“Danny Wexler, the sports guy? Because of the thing with the weather guy getting killed?”
“The weather guy was killed by Molly. That’s how it’ll go down, dog attack. Case closed. And Molly is dead so . . .”
“You’re being stupid, you know that? You think we should call Marconi?”
I shrugged. “You do what you want. Hey, did you know that the number-one all-time rated show in Korea was the premiere of that ’80s show Joanie Loves Chachi? It turns out that in Korean, ‘chachi’ means ‘penis.’”
John paused the game.
“It’s after ten. I wanna flip over, see if the news has got anything about it.”
He did, before I could object, and I was immediately reminded of why I hated local newscasts. We sat through a lengthy tribute to the departed Ken Phillipe, showing old video clips of the idiot standing knee-deep in rushing floodwater while wind pummeled his microphone, another shot of a shaky camera trying to track a tornado on the horizon while Ken shouted his report.
They transitioned from that to a scandal at a local nursing home where dishwashers rinsed bedpans and dinner plates in the same load, then to a house fire that wouldn’t have made the newscast at all had their crew not arrived in time to get video of the pretty flames. Then they got to sports and I admit, that part was . . . different.
The first thing that was strange was when they cut to the two-shot of Danny Wexler and the anchor, Danny’s face was black. I saw immediately why Krissy thought he was wearing a mask earlier. At first glance it would look like he had on a black ski mask, one without the eyeholes.
But when they cut to the closer one-shot of his head, you could see the effect went way beyond that; Danny Wexler appeared to be a statue carved from solid shadow. Only John and I saw this, of course, because the other anchors didn’t react in horror. Or at least, not until Danny Wexler opened his mouth:
“I’m Danny Wexler and this is Channel Five sports! The [Undisclosed] football team has been raped in the ass by fate once again, booted from the first round of the playoffs as they failed to carry their inflatable turd past a chalk line in the grass as often as their opponents did. Here’s Hornets quarterback Mikey Wolford, flopping that right arm around like a retard while he tries to pass to a teammate that apparently only he can see. Aaaaand, it’s intercepted. Nice pass, ’tard! Now here’s Spartans fullback Derrick Simpson, pumping those nigger thighs down the field like pistons on a machine designed for cotton picking. Ooh, nice tackle attempt there, Freddy Mason! I bet you could tackle that fullback if he was made of dick, couldn’t you, Freddy? But, he’s not, so final score, forty-one to seventeen. May every Spartan die with a turd on his lips. All hail Korrok.”
Danny didn’t get to read any more highlights, as the newscast abruptly switched back to a visibly shaken anchorwoman, who announced they would be right back. Commercial.
John clicked off the TV and I let out a long, resigned sigh. Without a word, we put on our jackets and walked out the door. We stopped by my toolshed.
THE MORBIDLY OBESE security guard at the Channel 5 building told us Wexler had left early. We almost gave up at that point, but got a huge break in the case when John thought to look up Wexler’s home address in the phone book.
After getting lost, briefly, we pulled into the lot of Wexler’s building and found a Buick with the license plate 5 SPRTS, which, after some debate, we decided must stand for Channel 5 sports and that it must be his.
“You still got the mints?” John asked as we strode up to the four-story apartment building. “You knock on the door and when Wexler answers, you cram some mints down his throat.”
“If he’s acting normal, we don’t do anything. Just find out what he knows. About Molly and, you know, everything else that’s happening. If it’s something we can fix with a mint then fine. If not, then we leave Dr. Marconi a voice mail and drive until we find a town that doesn’t keep showing up in books with titles like True Tales of the Bizarre. Marconi can come down and do a whole show on it for all I care. Write another book.”
I had my old-school ghetto blaster; John was carrying a satchel containing several items he collected from my toolshed. We didn’t have any holy water. Where do you even get it? Off the Internet?
We positioned ourselves on either side of the door to Wexler’s third-floor apartment. I set down the stereo, facing its speakers toward the closed door. John unzipped the satchel and pulled out a weapon he had made, a Bible wrapped around the end of a baseball bat with electrician’s tape. He brought it up to the ready. I pushed “play.”
The smooth-yet-screechy sound of Cinderella’s “Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til it’s Gone” filled the hall.
We let it play for the duration of the song, one guy down the hall poking his head out of a door in confusion and then closing it quickly at the sight of John and his bat. Wexler’s door remained closed.
We shut off the stereo, listened. Nothing from the other side of the door. I tried the knob. Unlocked. I gestured to John and he ducked inside, Bible bat at the ready. My gesture had meant, “Wait, we should reconsider this.”
I followed John in, reluctantly. I left the door open behind me.
Lights on, but nobody home. The television was on and I jumped when I saw it was me and John on the screen. Then I noticed a tripod and camcorder facing us from across the room, aimed at the sofa in front of us. It was apparently positioned to tape whoever was sitting there, the TV set to show the live feed. The sofa was empty now.
We split up and quickly searched all five rooms of the small apartment, but the place had an empty feeling to it and my heart had slowed down by the time I peered in the last doorway. Nobody here.
The place was neat but cramped. Furniture too close to the TV, a kitchen table that would have to be pulled away from the wall if you wanted to seat more than two people. Movie posters in the bedroom. Bachelor pad.
“DAVE! IN HERE!”
I ran. I found John lying prone on the floor of the bedroom.
At the sight of me he sat up and thrust both hands out. In one hand he held a large, folded envelope, ragged where it had been torn open. In the other hand he held a small, silver canister.
Just like mine.
He said, “Under the bed.”
I let out a long breath and said, “Oh holy mother of fuck.”
I sat on the bed. I shook my head slowly and said, “Man, we can’t go through this again.”
He gave me the envelope. I flattened it out, saw the address was written in an aggressive jagged scrawl that had to be a man’s.
“ATTN: KATHY BORTZ, REPORTER
CHANNEL 5 NEWSROOM”
. . . and then the P.O. Box number of the TV station.
John said he remembered her from the newscast earlier, said she was the lead reporter who did the nursing home story. So if you were a citizen and had something big to share with the world, such as a vial of a black, oily goo from Planet X, you’d mail it to a Kathy Bortz. Or, at least, that’s what James “Big Jim” Sullivan would do.
I can say that because his name was scrawled in the return address corner, followed by an address I had seen many times and had long memorized, always following the words, “I’m Molly. Please return me to . . .”
I rubbed my hand over my mouth, tried to think through it. I said, “Jim had the soy sauce.”
John shrugged. “I guess so.”
“Why didn’t he tell us?”
“For the same reason you haven’t told anybody else. That night, I was surprised Jim hung around as long as he did, even after the needle came out. But, maybe he was there because he did know what it was. Trying to control the situation. And he did try to tell somebody, you know. He mailed it to the damned TV station.”
“Before he died.”
A shrug. “Probably.”
“Son of a bitch. I knew he knew more than he was letting on. We should have sweated him down and got some answers. So he got it from the Jamaican?”