“Wait a minute! I can’t keep track of when and where we are.” Seated in a black armchair, Elise’s face was flushed red, and sweated beaded on her furrowed brow.
Chase patted her shoulder and handed her a bottle of water out of the mini fridge. “I know. I understand channeling can be very disorienting. In fact,” he looked at his watch, “in our time it is well past midnight. But here, it is a Saturday evening in January and not nearly 8:00 PM.”
The water passed through Elise’s lips as her eyes darted about the room. Two armchairs rested before a large oak desk which housed a computer, telephone, desk lamp, and the assorted office supplies one would find on a desk. Behind the desk was a window that looked out to the quieting street below. Elsewhere throughout the room was a bookcase, file cabinet, a map of the city on the wall, and a small table with a coffee maker. “Where is here?”
“Well, you’re in that armchair.”
She glared at him as if she meant to melt his brain with her eyes.
“This is my office in beautiful downtown Fallsbury, or, at least it used to be. We’ve come here because there is a piece of information I need to obtain before somebody steals it. The fact that he stole it this particular night let me know that I would not be here at this moment in time, although we’re cutting this a bit short. We need to hurry since he should be here shortly. Ironically, I’m also eating dinner right now downstairs at Blondie’s.”
Elise shook her head. “If you have the ability to stop somebody from stealing something from you, then why don’t you stop him? Or, at least, go warn yourself?”
“No, I need him to steal that from me. Otherwise, a murderer may go free.” Chase sat down at the desk and logged into the computer. “Drink that water. We’ll find a place to rest soon.”
“Let me put something into perspective for you.”
Out on the frosty streets of Fallsbury, Massachusetts, they walked a block and a half together north, turned west and crossed Main Street, then walked another block until they stood before the open gates of Fallsbury Park.
Elise frowned. “Don’t they close this at night?”
“They close the garden at night in the summer to keep out junkies, and during the winter it’s always locked up, but the path along the pond is kept open. Come. This is taking a risk, but I want to introduce you to someone.”
The path from the street sloped downward until it split, the path to the right ending at the locked gate of Fallsbury’s small botanical garden, and the left sloping further downward to the small pond in the center of town that was fed to by a tributary from the much larger Fallsbury Lake far away from the city center. Pressed against the railing around the pond and looking out over the waters was a solitary figure, a tall middle-aged man with bushy grey hair to match his equally bushy eyebrows and mustache, and a protruding gut emerging out from a tan sports jacket.
The man’s head perked up at the approaching visitors and he turned around. “DeBarlo. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Just out for a little fresh air. Didn’t realize you’d be down here hogging up all the oxygen.”
“Don’t get smart with me, DeBarlo. I don’t have the patience for you tonight. We already had a hell of a day.” The man swiveled back around to face the pond. “Who’s the broad?”
“Police Detective Len Stevens, I’d like you to meet Elise. Elise, this is Len.”
Len muttered something indiscernible and didn’t turn back around to greet the young woman. Elise said nothing and folded her arms.
Chase slid in next to Len, gazed out over the water, and blew out a breath of vapor that looked like smoke in the chilly air. “It’s a nice night, isn’t it? The stars are out. There won’t be too many of these left before it grows cold.”
The police detective scoffed. “Look, is there something you want from me? I know you wanted Rock to check out that CD, but our guys in the lab are on it.”
“It’s not the CD, it’s –”
“Then what the hell is it?”
Chase shook his head. “I guess I caught you at a bad time.” He stepped away and nudged Elise’s elbow to move on. “Say ‘hi’ to Louise for me.”
Len groan from behind them as they walked along the pond to the next exit out of the park, “Seriously, DeBarlo? You know better than to come down here at this time.”
Under his breath as they hit the street, Chase replied to himself, “Yes, Len, I know.”
Chase and Elise walked in a cold silence for nearly ten minutes, with nothing but the periodic passing car to break it. Finally, Chase halted in front of the police station and stared up at the artdeco facade.
Elise uncrossed her arms and spread her hands. “What are we doing? And what was that back there?”
Chase didn’t look at her but remained transfixed on the front facade of the police station. “That was Police Detective Len Stevens. He would never admit it, but he was a good friend. We busted each other’s chops incessantly, but we respected each other professionally. There’s something else you need to see, but in today’s world.” Chase glanced about. “No one is on the street. Take my hand.”
The now increasingly familiar swirl of colors of the time channeling engulfed them, and when they emerged they were still standing in front of the police station.
Elise shook her head. “Wasn’t that still taking a chance? While no one was on the street back there, they could have been on the street here.”
Chase shrugged. “Yeah.”
He ushered her inside and they approached the front desk. It was late and quiet with only a few police officers milling about. The desk sergeant, a stocky middle-aged man with balding brown hair and reading glasses looked up at them. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for Police Detective Len Stevens.”
“Len Stevens. He’s a Fallsbury police detective.”
The desk sergeant slipped off his reading glasses and stood. “There’s no one here by that name.”
“I see. Maybe he’s retired. It’s been a few years.”
“A few years?”
Elise yanked Chase’s trench coat sleeve and whispered. “We should go. Something doesn’t feel right.”
Chase ignore Elise and remained where he stood. “Yes, just a few years ago. He helped me out with a number of things, a number of cases, I should say. His desk was right upstairs, left side of the hall in the back.”
The desk sergeant leaned in. “You mean the small office where Detective Reynolds has been sitting for the past twelve years? Look, fella, I’ve been working this desk for almost twenty-five years and there’s never been anyone named Len Stevens that has worked here. You must be in the wrong town.”
Elise yanked Chase’s sleeve again, this time dragging his arm down several inches. “Chase!”
Chase spotted Elise’s urgency. Behind the desk sergeant hovered something dark and ominous, not fully formed, just the echoes of a shadow and devoid of any light.
He stepped back and took Elise’s arm. “Twenty-five years you say? The promotion opportunities here must be horrendous. Perhaps you’re right. My mistake.”
They hurried out of the police station, not looking back at what had been lurking there, and returned to the park where no one stood any longer near the pond.
When they caught their breath Elise demanded, “What the hell was that?”
“You saw what I wanted to show you. Len Stevens once existed and now it’s as if he never existed at all. He was a man with a wife, with a family, had a musician nephew who I became friends with. Now they’re all gone.”
Elise blew out an icy breath across the pond. “What happened?”
Chase burst into the Fallbury police department with Michelle and Claire right on his heels. On a normal occasion, the desk sergeant would have asked him where he was going, even though he already knew where, but this wasn’t a normal occasion, and the desk sergeant was nowhere to be seen. Phones were ringing incessantly inside the station, answered only by the smattering of officers on desk duty that remained in the building — all the others seemed to be chasing down the havoc in the streets that was distressing the night.
On their run to the police station screams and cries cut through the cool night air. They’d witnessed people fleeing from their homes in panic, traffic pile ups on all the main thoroughfares, small fires breaking out, the looting of Vincent’s Drug, and right out in front of the police station a car had smashed into a light pole, but nobody was paying it any mind. Through it all they caught the glimpse of dark shadows running amok through the throngs, and ghoulish figures that had attacked Michelle also attacking other denizens of Fallsbury.
With his trench coat billowing behind him, Chase rushed the stairs to the second floor two at a time and broke hard to the left in the middle of the second floor hall. Michelle and Claire were panting hard to keep up.
“Slow down, Chase, before Michelle passes out again!”
At the rear of the jungle of desks on this side of the hall, in his own little windowed office, Police Detective Len Stevens paced back and forth with a phone in his hand. Chase skidded to a halt at the foot of Len’s desk.
“What do you mean Martinez and Halskey have gone missing? It’s like the apocalypse out there and we need every able body that’s available out there figuring out what the hell is going on! Call me in five with a better report!”
Len slammed down the phone and glared at Chase, “What the hell do you want, DeBarlo? As you can see, whatever it is I don’t have time for it. Shit, this is probably your doing. You spell trouble, DeBarlo!”
“Not that again! I said I don’t have time!”
Chase spread his hands. “I’ve been out in this, Len. I’ve seen first hand what we’re dealing with, and I’m going to tell you it’s like something that’s straight out of hell. You need to evacuate the city. Seriously. Tell me what it is I can help with, and I don’t mean with the doughnut sitting on your desk.”
“Damn it, DeBarlo!” Len pounded a fist into his desk, coffee spilling out of a mug that rested next to a half-eaten doughnut. “How can you joke around at a time like this? I told you I don’t have time!”
Chase matched the police detective, pounded a fist into the desk and bore his eyes into Len’s. Len’s eyes lit up and he stepped back.
“This is beyond any of us, Len! And I can see from the look in your eye you already know that, and you don’t know what to do. You’re flailing. Come on. You’re damn good at what you do. All jokes aside, you’re damn good. So take a breath and tell me what you need.”
The two stared at each other for a full minute while Michelle and Claire stood stock-still in the doorway and exchanged glances. Finally, Len’s face eased from its tightened glare, and he sighed.
“No one knows what happened to the captain, so it’s fallen upon me to make sense of all this chaos. Down at the town square a bunch of religious nuts have gathered and are screaming that the gates of hell have been opened, and at this point I think they may be right. I saw some black shadow — I don’t know what the hell you want to call it — drag a man down into a storm sewer right in front of my eyes. I put in calls to our neighboring cities to help, but they’re dealing with this same insanity that has broken loose.”
Chase lifted his fist from the desk and pointed at a photograph that rested at its corner. “Maybe you should go home to Louise and make sure she’s safe.”
Len shook his head. “She’s in Florida visiting our daughter. No, I have to try to salvage what’s left here, see if there’s a way we can restore any sort of peace.” The police detective glanced out the window where a small horde of people were running past the car that had plowed into the street lamp. “But there is something you can do for me, DeBarlo.”
“My nephew, Tate, is still out there. He and his band had a show at Tanner’s tonight, so I sent Jerome down there to make sure he’s all right. I haven’t heard anything.”
Chase nodded. “Yeah, I can do that.”
“Good.” Len checked his shoulder holster and insured his pistol was at the ready. “Now you get out of here and let me get back to work. This is our fucking town, and I intend to instill some order.”
Michelle and Claire filed back into the hallway as Chase began backing out of the office. He gave the mustachioed police detective a long final look and wished him well. “Take care of yourself, my friend.”
“You, too, DeBarlo. And, Chase…” Len swallowed hard. “I really do love doughnuts, you asshole.”
“Now get the hell out of here and see if you can’t figure this shit out.”
And with that, Private Investigator Chase Michael DeBarlo turned from Police Detective Len Stevens and never saw him alive again.