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Dead Endings Book 2 (Dead Leads): Chapter 7

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #047 back issue.

“You know,” Cailen said. “I’ve heard the argument and I still don’t get it.”

“Get what?” asked Jason as he mixed a drink.

“The whole ‘spirit community,’ ‘make it public,’ ‘acknowledge my powah!’ thing.”

The bartender laughed. “It’s not just you. As someone with what you could barely call a ‘power,’ I don’t get the thrill, either.”

Cailen nodded vigorously. “Right? If it ever was accepted by the world at large, this kind of stuff just seems like something they’d log under ‘medical disorder’ and call it a day.”

“Unless you’re someone like Gabriella or Ruben,” Jason countered. “The CIA would have a field day if they had aura-readers on the payroll.”

“Bet they already do.”

“Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Cailen lowered her voice to a whisper. “Or they’d round everyone up, X-Men Days of Future Past-style…”

Jason leaned in and whispered, “I don’t know what that is.”

She rocked back on her bar stool and shook her head. “You don’t know what that is? Just what kind of nerd are you?!”

“The superior kind that plays video games.”

She sniffed at him and went back to her Bourbon Flip.

After the confrontation at The Laundry, no one but Cailen had been interested in drinking. Gabriella had stormed out after a quick word with Billy, and Everett had bowed out as well. Left by herself at the bar with three untouched drinks, Cailen had dutifully finished them all, and then departed for a less conspicuous, but still sympathetic, watering hole.

It was still relatively early in the day, and “The Hanging Vyce” was wonderfully empty compared to her previous visit. Cailen had immediately sought out Jason. To her relief, the amiable bartender was there. He was also more than happy to listen to the recent updates on the “death balloons” and fight at The Laundry.

“I’m surprised she didn’t throw him,” he said, referencing Gabriella’s stare down with Conner.

“She, uh, does tend to argue in Judo,” Cailen conceded. “But! She hasn’t dislocated anyone’s joints in weeks.”

“Very restrained of her. What are you guys going to do, though?” Jason started to tick off points with his fingers. “You can’t find the kid, and now he’s on the lookout for you, too. There’s no way Conner’s going to stop now that Gabriella put him on the spot at the bar. And half of the community will have heard about this by tonight.”

“Is that bad?” Cailen asked about the last point.

“Well, love him or hate him–”

“Hate him.”

“–Conner has a point that’s going to appeal to more than a few people. I think you’re going to have a hard time getting any help from that group. What’s worse, Conner’s ability might sound like something out of the Eighteenth Century, but the guy is probably the best at getting info from spirits, and that includes finding people.”

“Huh. I hadn’t really thought about it,” Cailen mused. “There’s no one else who can do that auto-writing thing?”

Jason shook his head. “Not that I’ve ever heard of. Most people don’t have what you’d call ‘useful’ abilities. We just see or hear stuff sometimes. I mean, there are some with psychometry, but unless the kid’s dead, I don’t think it’s all that specific.”

“Bummer,” Cailen said. Then she brightened. “We have a secret weapon, though!”

The bartender waited expectantly.

“Everett!”

“The book kid?”

“Yeah. He’s like a bloodhound. Or a dead-people-hound. We just need to find him a scent.”

“Well, there you have it,” Jason said with a smile, and turned away to serve a woman who’d just entered.

“Yep,” Cailen muttered over the rim of her drink. “We just need to find him a scent in a city with eight million people. Nooooo problem…”

***

When Cailen returned to the apartment, she found Gabriella sitting on the floor, banging the landline phone against one of the bricks they’d used to prop up their ailing coffee table.

“You okay?” she asked.

“It’s fine. Everything’s JUST FINE. I’m…ARRRRRGGGGHH!”

Smash, went the phone.

“This reminds me,” Cailen said. “I was thinking of getting you anger management classes for Christmas.”

Gabriella made a face at her, then self-consciously smoothed back her hair. “You don’t really think I have anger issues…do you?”

Cailen glanced at the mangled phone. Gabriella’s face fell.

“I’m just kidding,” Cailen added. “I’d never sign you up for those. The violence is one of my favorite things about you.”

Gabriella sighed. “Yeah, well, it’s been a long week.”

Cailen set her bag on the kitchen counter and fetched them both bottles of water from the fridge. She plopped herself down next to her roommate and handed her one of the bottles.

“So…what’s first on the agenda?”

Gabriella took a long, thoughtful swig.

“The most pressing thing is finding this kid, but I’ve also got Marta to finish up with, and there’s no way I can just ditch her.”

“It’s not going well?”

“No, it is, but we’re right at a crucial part. She’ll be able to do it herself in a day or two, but this death balloon thing is pissing me off! I need to get him under control ASAP.”

“Yeah,” Cailen agreed. “You sure you still want to try and reason with him, though? Plugging that little punk seems like a damned good idea to me right about now.”

Gabriella shook her head. “I know I didn’t really explain it before, but it’s seriously not a good idea. That kind of thing can be…permanent.”

“Isn’t that the idea?”

“Yeah, but…” Gabriella gestured helplessly. “It’s like an itch you can’t scratch or something. It–”

“Wait,” Cailen interrupted. “Is this, like, something you’ve done before?”

“Me? No, no.” She looked so guilty that Cailen wondered for the first time in her life if Gabriella was actually lying to her. The thought apparently didn’t go unnoticed by the aura-reader.

“I didn’t,” she assured Cailen. “And I can’t. It was…Ruben.”

“Your teacher?”

“Remember how I said his ability is aura-related?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, he can do more than read them. He’s able to change them or even wipe them altogether.”

“Whoa. Can he, like, Jedi mind trick people?”

Gabriella snorted. “No. It’s not like he can force people to do things they don’t want to. It’s not mind control.”

“Okay, but in terms of spiritual stuff? I’m guessing it’s effective there?”

She nodded. “If it was anyone but Ruben, it would be scary stuff to a sensitive. He uses it to help others, though. Half the people at The Laundry owe Ruben for sorting them out.”

“So he’s like a supernatural doctor?”

Her friend laughed. “More like a therapist. He’s coached tons of us through the hard stuff over the years. Either just talking, mentoring, or ‘muffling,’ he’s made it possible for a lot of people to live semi-normal lives.”

“So that’s where you picked up that little trick you used on me in high school!”

“Yeah,” Gabriella confessed. “I can’t do half of what he does, but I have my ways.” She smiled mischievously, but Cailen’s next question killed the mood.

“What happened with the ‘wipe,’ then?”

Gabriella stared at the opening of her water bottle for a moment. “I’ve known about this stuff since I was a little kid, and have family who’s totally into it. It’s never been scary or even a big deal to me. But for most people, I get that it’s kind of like a nightmare. I know how bad it can be. How it was for you, or for people like Marta.”

Cailen took a small sip of water.

“About six years ago, a kid was sent to Ruben for help. He was just a bit older than I was at the time. His ability was the usual thing: visual, audial. Passive. Average strength. But like with Marta, he’d been slowly pecked at by ghosts for years. He knew they couldn’t do anything to him, but he couldn’t get away from them, either. Ruben talked to him, walked him through the shielding, even muffled his aura to give him some relief. He could still sense them, though, and that ate at him. Things weren’t getting any better, and his parents kept begging Ruben to do something, anything else. So he took it one step further.”

“He wiped him completely.”

Gabriella nodded. “He said he’d needed to do it once before, years and years ago. He didn’t like it, but they were desperate.”

“I’m guessing it didn’t work, then?”

“No, no. It worked. It worked perfectly. The kid was completely cut off from the spirit side of things. No more seeing dead people in the road, no more hearing voices at night…”

Cailen chewed on the opening of the bottle, confused. “Then…what?”

“He killed himself.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” Gabriella said sadly. “It made things worse, in a way. He couldn’t see or hear them anymore, but he thought he could. Everywhere.”

“An itch you can’t scratch,” Cailen repeated.

“Yep. Ruben was busted up pretty bad over it. He thinks he should have worked harder at teaching the kid to live with it, or helped him some other way.”

Cailen wasn’t convinced. “I dunno. Sounds like he was just too far gone in the first place. Maybe there was no talking him back from that edge, whatever you guys tried. Into your teens is a long time to be in the dark and alone with this stuff.”

“I couldn’t say for sure,” Gabriella conceded, “but I feel like it hurt him in the end rather than helped. That’s why I’m not considering it as an option, assuming Ruben would even do it.”

“Fair enough. So back to the immediate problem, then: pinning down this damn kid.”

Gabriella groaned. “I’ve got nothing. The school’s on break for summer now, so we missed our chance there. Everett hasn’t had any luck with whatever sleuthy journalism tactics he has. Ben’s no help, so it’s up to us to play police, and I’m running out of people to call.”

Cailen made what she thought was a soothing sound.

“And while I’m dying to get ahold of Conner and rearrange his face, I get the feeling the police would be interested then. Not that I know where he is, either! Argh!”

Her fingers twitched for the phone again. Cailen gently nudged it out of range with her foot.

“Okay, so we’re just in a holding pattern at the moment. I’m sure there’s another angle we can try, though. What about Ev?”

“Well, like I said, he hasn’t been able to find anything.”

“No, I mean using his ability.”

Gabriella chewed on her lip. “Look, Everett’s definitely got some detective skills, but in terms of spirit power, he’s…” She fluttered her hands.

“That’s a little unfair, don’t you think? He tracked the kid down before at the café using the playback.”

“He was able to because there was a starting point, but we don’t know where the kid got his latest ghosts from. Heck, Ev couldn’t even pick out the spirit at The Laundry, and it was in the same room!”

“But what if–”

“Look,” Gabriella interrupted, “I love the guy, but I need this figured out quickly. I don’t have time to hold his hand or deal with the book thing.”

Cailen frowned at her. It was uncharacteristic of her to be so blunt–that was Cailen’s thing–but she supposed Gabriella’s impatience to finish this wasn’t helping. Stressful times, indeed.

“All right, then, Ms. All-Powerful. Who else have we got? Surely there’s got to be someone else besides Conner who can find people. You’ve been bragging that you know pretty much every sensitive in Manhattan, so who can we get to walk us over to the kid?”

Gabriella gave her a strange look. “Walk us?”

“I’m hoping to avoid the trains during peak hour,” Cailen explained.

“Oh,” Gabriella said. “I thought that maybe…”

“What?”

“Um… Well, there is actually someone who could ‘walk’ us. In a way.”

Gabriella didn’t immediately elaborate, and Cailen watched in amazement as her roommate’s cheeks began to turn pink. Delighted, Cailen waited for her to continue. Once Gabriella realized she wasn’t going to be able to avoid it, she sighed and explained.

“Benedict Isley… Professor Benedict Isley.”

“I don’t know who that is,” Cailen grinned, “but I’m dying to meet him now. Who is he and what can he do?”

“He was one of my…undergrad professors.”

Cailen’s jaw dropped. “Nooooo, you didn’t! Did you?!”

“No, I didn’t! I… Nothing…”

“Oh my god!” Cailen cackled. “He turned YOU down, didn’t he?!”

The reddening cheeks confirmed it.

Cailen had to lie on the carpet for a minute until her ribs stopped aching.

“I don’t know what’s funnier here,” she howled. “The fact that you tried to pull your professor, or that you failed.”

“It was a long time ago!” Gabriella growled. “And he was very nice about it!”

“I’m sure he regrets it terribly,” Cailen said consolingly as she sat back up. “Okay, then. What can this paragon of virtue do?”

“Astral projection.”

“Er…”

“He can dream walk,” Gabriella clarified. “All over the city. He’s got a huge range, and he can see other spirits when he does it.”

“Oh, very cool!”

“Yeah. He used to do it on the sly for his sleep studies–he was part of a clinical research unit at the university. He can also see auras, to a point. Like, pick out sensitives in a crowd.”

Cailen thought about it. “The kid could do that, too. He said I didn’t ‘glow.’”

Gabriella shrugged. “It’s not uncommon if you have a stronger ability. Even if you can’t see the colors, sensitives give off extra aura. Hard to miss next to normal people.”

“Neato. Okay, so we call him and have him do flyovers until he spots the kid?”

“Something like that. We’ll need to narrow it down a bit, though. And that’s if he’ll even agree to help…”

Cailen stood and stretched. “Then there’s nothing to worry about. I have full confidence in you, Benitez!”

“Thanks. I’m not really all that sure he will, to be honest.”

“What?” Cailen asked. “You’re totally legal now! How can he say no?”

She ran before Gabriella could throw the phone at her.

***

Proceed to Chapter 7, page 2–>

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