TCOS: Chapter 3 (2/3)

“Look, Lori,” Foxe said uncomfortably, “I just wanted you to have a shot at some closure, okay?  If this is what it takes, then great.”

“So it has nothing to do with the fact that you introduced my dad to this guy.”

He gave her a sharp look.  “I didn’t.”

She folded her arms and leaned forward across the table.  “Yeah, funny thing about traumatic experiences.  They can make you remember things really, really clearly.  You wanted this guy to buy some of dad’s paintings.”

“I didn’t know he was going to kill him for them.”

Several people stared and Lori realized she’d gone too far.  Foxe looked like a cornered animal, ready to run.  His hands were shaking, sloshing the tea back and forth in the cup.

“Okay,” she said, lowering her voice.  “Okay, sorry.  I know you didn’t.”

Foxe shut his eyes and nodded.  He looked ill.  Whether it was drugs, withdrawal, or just everything, Lori didn’t know.  She didn’t care, either—as long as he could somehow keep it together.

“I just need you to help me find him,” she said.  “I just want him caught.”  She reached down into the backpack that sat beside her and pulled out a slightly battered folder full of papers, newspaper clippings, and photographs.  It was the one thing she could count on to secure his cooperation.  “Remember?”  She opened it and took out a somewhat blurred photograph of the painted man.  He wore a coat of brightest blue.  Its hems swept below his knees and its golden buttons were fastened all the way up to his throat so that his neck was covered.  His hair was fiery red and immaculate, despite the chaos of the street—despite the fact that he was actively shoving his way through the crowd to escape the person taking the photo.

“This one was taken three years ago, right after a bus fire.”  She took out another photo and laid it next to the first.  “This was taken a few months before that, right after the shop in the picture was filled with bullets.  Everyone said it was a gang war, but there was never any proof and there he is, hanging out in the aftermath.”  She dumped the rest of the file on the table, scattering clippings and photos across it.  “They go back decades.  Way too many decades.  Look,” she said, picking up a yellowed bit of newspaper.  “This is from the end of World War II, in a concentration camp in Germany.”

“Where in the world did you get that?” Foxe asked, suddenly taking interest.

“Google.”

She bent closer and pointed at the black and white face they were becoming so familiar with.  “See?  This is supposed to be from when the camp was liberated, and those are mostly British soldiers around him, so I don’t think he was a Nazi or anything.  But either he’s way too old, or this is some Dread Pirate Roberts shit that-”

“Lori.”  The sharpness in his voice brought her to a halt.

“What?”

“This is getting a bit obsessive, don’t you think?”

She couldn’t help but smile.  “Obsessive?”  She began gathering up the scraps and photos, resisting the urge to laugh in his face.  “Says the ex-detective.  Wasn’t this your job, basically?  Shouldn’t you have already done all of this?”  It was her turn to raise her voice and draw stares.  “This guy has been at hundreds of major crimes and disasters for over a century, and no one has done anything about him.  No one has even noticed!  Maybe it’s time someone started being a bit obsessive.”

“I just think that-”

But what he thought would have to wait.  It was drowned out in a sudden flurry of movement in the shop; everyone seemed to have been given some invisible shock that propelled them out of their seats.  They rushed to press against the windows.  Lori could barely see over their collective heads, but she soon understood the source of their confusion and excitement; it stemmed from the arrival of an ominous black shape in the distance.  There was never anything good about ominous black shapes, but this one was especially disturbing.  It was bearing down on the city’s famous bridges, riding a chill wind silently along the Tyne.  No one had noticed it until now; it had come out of a pocket of fog, huge and sinister like a jagged piece broken off from a nightmare.

All up and down the shore and all across the nearest bridge, people began to act as people generally do.  Cameras and camera-phones leapt out of pockets.  Fingers were pointed, and there was a large amount of shouting.  The internet would soon be swarmed by hundreds of pictures in varying degrees of blur, each depicting the wooden-flanked monstrosity that held its head high as it glided past stream-lined boats and yachts at rest.  There would be thousands of hits for searches such as “ghost ship,” because that was the only thing such a dark, battered vessel could be.  As if its inherent forebodingness and unaccountable appearance weren’t enough, it bore tell-tale signs of having been through tremendous perils.  Its sails were tattered into mere threads that hung like seaweed.  There was a massive hole in the planking of its starboard side, and there was no one on deck.

Ancient and impossible, it made straight for the bridge and then stopped, dragging to a quiet halt in the middle of the water.  When it was obvious it would go no further, police and harbor officials were called, both to assist in holding back eager crowds and to go aboard and investigate.  Lori and Foxe were among those being held back, having rushed from their comfortable shop with everyone else, leaving behind tea and coffee and losing themselves in adrenaline.  This was what the painted man had been waiting for.  It must be.

“Lori,” Foxe grabbed her arm as they were jostled to and fro by the crowds, “there’s no way we’re getting on board.”

“But we have to!”

“We can’t,” he hissed.  “What am I going to do, say I’m an American officer who used to be a detective?  That’s two reasons for them to kick us off.  We’ll sneak aboard tonight,” he added before she could protest.

She hesitated and gave him a nod.  “Fine.”  They watched for a while as people walked the deck, but at last Lori forced herself to turn away; if they remained any longer she would find herself trying to jump onboard.  Foxe may have been a complete and utter failure in most aspects, but his caution was logical in this case.  She knew that even tonight, when they went back to the ship, they would probably face some sort of security left over to protect the ship from curious interlopers.  However, she also knew that, come hell or high water, she was going to raid that ship for every secret it held.

#

(TCOS will return next Thursday evening!  In the meantime, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @companyofsouls.)

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