Dead Endings Book 2 (Dead Leads): Chapter 5
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #043 back issue.
Cailen woke to the sound of screaming. Back and forth the voices went, one high-pitched, the other low and bellowing, reverberating through the walls of the apartment. Groaning, she rolled off the sofa and staggered to the window facing the street. She threw open the curtains and heaved the window up.
“GET A ROOM!” she yelled at the couple fighting by the bins.
The woman outside directed her screeching in Cailen’s direction and gave her the finger. Cailen returned the gesture and slammed the window back down. She fastened the lock for good measure. They were on the fourth floor, but you never knew.
Cailen ambled into the kitchen and flipped the switch on the coffee maker. It vibrated to life with a cheerful hiss. She gave it a pat, then set about rummaging through the fridge for breakfast. Or lunch, rather.
Gabriella hadn’t returned yet that day, it seemed. It had been three nights since she’d taken up watch at Jan’s place. When things went well, she tended to roll in before Cailen got up. And when they didn’t…
Cailen set out a second mug. She had a feeling Gabriella was going to need it.
As she slurped up cold chow mein, the phone rang. Cailen eyed it suspiciously from across the room. She hadn’t wanted a house phone, but it had been there when they took over the apartment. Very occasionally it ended up being useful.
“I’m not here,” she singsonged.
The call went to the machine.
“Cailen, I know you’re there,” said Everett’s voice.
She shook her head. “No, I’m not.”
“I saw you giving someone the finger five minutes ago. You’re there. Please pick up.”
She got up and peeked through the peephole on the door. He wasn’t there.
The phone began to ring again.
Cailen went to the window and peered down at the street. Everett spotted her from his position by the fire hydrant before she could duck behind the curtains.
The machine picked up again.
“Cailen, please! It’s impor–oh, wait. Maybe you’re actually with someone…? I mean, I guess it’s possible you have a guy over? Uh…”
The wondering disbelief in his voice annoyed her greatly.
She snatched the phone from its cradle. “Yes, there is a naked man here serving me pancakes. As you can imagine, I’m very busy. What do you want, Everett?”
“If you really have someone over, I can come back,” he said doubtfully.
Cailen sighed. “Just come up already.” She slammed the phone down.
When she opened the door for her unwanted guest, two things stood out immediately to Cailen. First, Everett was dressed like she imagined an accountant who moonlighted as a mortician would. From head to toe he was wearing drab gray that had been ironed with military precision. Gone were his usual bold colors and accessories, and in their place were plain black glasses and nondescript shoes. Cailen was not usually one to notice fashion, but it was hard to ignore when a bird of paradise arrived plucked at your door.
The other notable item was a large bottle of Glen Grant 10-year-old Scotch that he carried in front of him like a shield.
Puzzled at the strange combination, she could only stare for a few moments. The pause seemed to drain some of the confidence out of him. He cleared his throat nervously.
“I…” he began. “I wanted to apologize.” He thrust the bottle forward.
Cailen barely heard him over the beating of her heart. Glen Grant was consistently a top contender for Scotch of the year. It was a smooth, single malt with almond notes that lingered in the mouth. Since 1840, the blend had been matured in bourbon casks under the stormy skies of Northern Scotland. It shone like gold in the wan light of the hallway lights.
“Which of my family members did you run over to require an apology like this?” she asked hoarsely.
“Um, it’s about before. You know, at Jan’s place…”
Cailen’s brow furrowed as she tried to remember. Something about him being oblivious…?
Everett clearly took her knotted forehead for anger and rushed in to hug her, bottle crushing into her sternum.
“I’m so sorry, Cailen! I didn’t know about it! I didn’t mean to cause you pain!”
He squeezed her harder with his one arm and the bottle began to slide out of his other hand. Cailen scrabbled to save it as it slipped lower.
“I promise to take things more seriously! I’ll be careful, and considerate, and…!”
Cailen got a firm hold on the Scotch and pushed Everett away.
“Whoa, whoa! Back up, then come in. We’ll talk.”
She ushered him inside and set the bottle on the coffee table. He sat primly on the edge of the loveseat, steepling and unsteepling his fingers. Cailen took a deep breath and rubbed her face.
“Look, not that I don’t love booze and probably won’t let you leave with the bottle, but you don’t need to apologize, Everett.”
He shook his head vigorously. “But I do! I thought long and hard about what you said these last few days, and you’re right. I’ve been completely unprofessional and inconsiderate. I was so excited about the ghost stuff that I let it cloud my judgment. From here on out I will conduct myself properly!”
Cailen looked again at his attire. He certainly didn’t do things by halves.
“Um, this gig isn’t exactly a job, you know…” she said. “I wasn’t trying to say there’re some official rules you’re breaking or anything. Nothing about this stuff is official in any way. Seriously. All I meant the other day was just to pull it in a little more. You didn’t do anything wrong, exactly.”
Everett puffed out his chest. “It IS a job, and it IS important. My whole life I’ve wanted to find out more about this stuff and be a part of it, and I’m finally here! I appreciate everything you and Gabriella have shown me and told me, and I want to keep going. I can’t make mistakes like that again.”
Cailen scratched her jaw. “I mean, okay, sure, but you don’t owe me anything.”
“Then consider it ‘payment’ for more advice in the future.”
She laughed. “Whatever floats your boat, Ev.”
He relaxed a little at that and looked around. “Where’s Gabriella?”
“Still at Jan’s, I guess.”
“Do you know when she’s coming back? I have something for her, too.”
Cailen yawned. “Surely, it can’t be better than a bottle of Glen Grant.”
“Maybe better than a Glen Grant,” Everett said mysteriously.
She raised an eyebrow at that. “What is it?”
“You’ll see,” he said.
She didn’t like a coy Everett. Cailen studied his face but refused to ask again. Instead, she stood and stretched.
“Well, while we’re waiting, I guess we’ll just have to see how the ten-year fares against the Major’s Reserve.”
“The what? And it’s barely past noon, Cailen. You’re not really going to open it now…are you?”
She thought about it. It came to her suddenly that she wasn’t wearing pants. At least she’d fallen asleep with her bra on, she thought with a shrug.
“I’ve never met a bottle of whiskey that didn’t need to be opened,” she said solemnly and went to get them glasses.
She had barely made it to the cabinet when the front door slammed open.
“Coffee me!” Gabriella demanded.
Cailen held up the tumblers she’d been fetching. “Scotch?” she asked hopefully.
Gabriella looked at the glasses, then at Cailen’s bare legs. Instead of commenting, she turned to Everett.
“What are you doing here?” she asked him. “And why are you dressed like my tax guy?”
“I came to, um…”
Everett was staring at Cailen’s bare legs now, too, as if seeing them for the first time. His ears began to turn an alarming shade of pink.
“Drink? Anyone?” Cailen tried again, jiggling the tumblers invitingly.
“You know what?” Gabriella said. “Screw it. I’ll take one of each.”
She tossed her overnight bag onto the floor and collapsed into the sofa. “Just please, please, put on some clothes, Cailen.”
“It’s my house…” Cailen grumbled, but did as she was told, and then made up a coffee and Scotch for everyone.
Once they were all settled, Gabriella tried again.
“So, Ev, what brings you to this den of sin?”
Everett straightened on the loveseat and took a dainty sip of his Scotch. Cailn nodded approvingly at his fine liquor etiquette.
“I came…with information.” He drew out the pause as long as dramatically possible.
“You little sleuth!” Gabriella exclaimed, leaning forward eagerly. “You found him, didn’t you!”
“Saint Ignatious on East 84th.”
Gabriella clapped in her delight.
“And how did you manage that?” Cailen asked as she saluted his beaming face with her glass.
“Well,” Everett began smugly, “while you guys were interrogating him at the coffee shop, I was taking notes.” He turned and patted his carrier bag beside him on the couch. “I took down his hair, height, probable weight, you name it. Clothing-wise, both he and that other kid he was with were wearing some version of a spring or summer casual uniform. They even had the same issue shoes. And given the time of day, they had to have come straight from school, which means they’re enrolled somewhere on the island.”
“I…didn’t even notice what he was wearing,” Gabriella confessed.
Cailen tried to think back to that day, but everything was a blur of whirling tea cups in her memory. She knew the kid’s face, but other details? The giant storm above his head had been far too distracting.
Everett fiddled with his glasses, savoring the moment. Cailen noticed that they had no lenses.
“So with that information, I looked up all the schools within a twenty-block radius and narrowed it down to those with uniforms. Gabriella had said that the name on his bag tag was ‘Aiden,’ so next, I started visiting them. I said that some kid with that name and description had left something behind at the coffee shop, and I was just trying to pass on the message since I thought I recognized the uniform and was nearby.” He spread his hands in a hey, presto! manner.
Cailen was so impressed that she poured him more Scotch.
Gabriella shook her head in disbelief. “And that actually worked? Ev, you’re amazing!”
He grinned. “Got lucky on the fourth try. There is a seventh-grader by the name of Aiden Leventis fitting the description of our kid. We could even go today and catch him when he leaves…”
Gabriella sank back into the couch. Her hair was in a messy bun, and she was still wearing her sleepwear from the looks of it, but the excitement playing on her face warred with her rumpled state.
Cailen handed Gabriella her cup of coffee. Her friend accepted it without looking and took a long drink. When it was empty, she leaned forward and set it carefully back onto the glass tabletop.
“All right,” Gabriella said. “I’m doing it. Today. Are you guys in?” She looked at each of them in turn.
Everett wasted no time giving her the thumbs-up. He was practically vibrating with excitement at the idea of it.
Cailen didn’t volunteer immediately. Ghost business on a perfectly nice, lazy day didn’t sound like her idea of fun. She’d had more supernatural action of late than she cared for, anyway. It wasn’t like Gabriella needed her for her ‘belly-band plan,’ nor did she owe the man in the horn-rimmed glasses anything. She swished some of the Scotch around in her mouth. It left a lovely, aching burn down her throat when she swallowed.
Everett, then? Had she signed herself up for more idiocy by accepting his offering? Maybe. While she didn’t share his apparently burning desire to join in, she did feel a little guilty that he tried so hard to stay on her good side even when she just brushed him off half the time. A compelling enough reason, she supposed. It was the memory of the kid’s petulant face that tipped her to say yes in the end, though.
Proceed to Chapter 5, page 2–>