Dead Endings Book 2 (Dead Leads): Chapter 8
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #059 back issue.
“Sent,” Gabriella growled as she snatched up her bag.
Cailen set down her half-eaten burrito and watched as the woman dug around in the faux leather purse.
“Wait a sec. Where are you going? Shouldn’t we wait for a reply?”
The woman shook her head. “His university system name says he was active not three minutes ago. He’s got it. If we leave now, he should have enough time to watch it and be ready to ‘walk’ when we get there.”
“You think he will? I mean, it’s not like he was jumping to help even when we told him everything. Maybe–”
Gabriella cut her off with a wave of her hand. “He will. He’s acting all reserved, but he’s got a bigger bee in his bonnet about that Church stuff than he let on when we saw him. He’s convinced that any sort of overt action by sensitives will bring the Church down on our heads. He’ll help because he’s one hundred percent against the idea of what we can do becoming public knowledge.”
“Down on our heads, how? You never did explain what they have to do with any of this ghost stuff. You said there’s no one in charge. It’s not like they can round us up and send us to jail or anything.”
Gabriella’s mouth twitched slightly and Cailen suddenly felt very cold.
“No, they can’t,” the woman said after a pause. “Yes, they’re a bit…nosy, but historically they are the authority on the supernatural. They just keep tabs, ask questions. They’ve never done anything like what Isley suggests.”
Cailen didn’t believe her. Or them, rather. She respected her friend’s beliefs, but “historically” the Church had done many things. Many, many terrible things.
“Anyway,” Gabriella said, “we can talk about that later. The sooner we get Isley moving, the better.”
“Doubt he’ll be happy to see us, but whatever you say, boss.”
Cailen shrugged into her sleeveless silver vest and grabbed her own bag. After a moment’s thought, she also dug around in the key bowl by the door and retrieved her sock full of quarters. It never hurt to be prepared.
“Ready!” she said, and Gabriella impatiently bundled her out the door.
The trains were kind to them and they reached a venerable-looking brownstone in Williamsburg within the hour. Lights glowed warmly through the windows on several floors, and people could be seen going about their business for the night. Cailen stared at the decorative ironworks surrounding the tiny front gardens of the building and turned to Gabriella with narrowed eyes.
“This is his home, isn’t it?”
“You said nothing happened between you two.”
“Then why do you know where he lives?”
“It was for class!”
“Uh huh. You totally stalked this guy, didn’t you?”
Cheeks pink, Gabriella turned and strode off toward the front entrance. Cailen grinned after her but made no move to follow. Instead, she dug her phone out of her back pocket and called Everett.
“Yo,” she said when he picked up the line.
“The one and only. Thought I’d ring and let you know our current status.”
“Good timing!” he said. “I’m making progress, too. I’m working my way through a bunch of possible locations from the video. They have to have shot that footage somewhere along the East River south of the Queensboro Bridge. Remember the blue lights? That’s gotta be it, so I’ve been–”
“Cailen! C’mon!” Gabriella hollered, one foot propping open the building’s front door.
Cailen waved at her and headed over.
“That’s super helpful, actually. We’re at some guy’s place who might be able to give us a hand in pinpointing their location.”
“Yeah,” Cailen said. “Some guy.” She waggled her eyebrows at Gabriella as she passed her going into the building. Gabriella did not look amused.
“Apparently this dude can ghost walk or something. He’s going to track down the brat so we can head over and stop them from making more of these suicidally idiotic videos.”
“Oh wow!” Everett exclaimed. “I want to meet this guy. I didn’t know there were people who could do that!”
“Well, we’ll see how it goes, but let’s just get a bead on the kid first.”
“Right! Keep me posted if he finds something more specific. I’ve got, like, thirty more warehouses on my list to go…”
Cailen made a sympathetic noise. “Roger that.” She clicked the phone shut.
Gabriella was staring at her, expression somewhat annoyed.
“Don’t give me that,” Cailen countered. She pointed at her. “I was just making the call YOU should have. You can thank me later.”
They climbed the stairs to the third floor and stopped outside a sturdy-looking black door labeled 3B. Gabriella knocked.
“Sir! It’s us!”
The muffled music Cailen had heard as they approached faded. A resigned-looking Isley opened the door.
“Gabriella…” he sighed.
“I’m sorry, Professor, but you saw the video, right? And they’re going to do another one tonight! It can’t wait.”
His eyes fell on Cailen. She shrugged.
“Hey, it’s not like I want to be here, either. I was forced to abandon a really good burrito.”
“Come in, then.”
They walked past their reluctant host and into a spacious lounge bordered wall to wall with books and piles of magazines. Two tartan-patterned couches framed a squat antique coffee table where a tea set and overturned book looked like they’d just been abandoned. Cailen breathed in the sweet smell of fennel wafting about the room, pushed around by several free-standing fans.
“Tea?” he asked.
“Sure,” Cailen said before Gabriella could open her mouth.
He retreated to the kitchen.
Cailen poked her friend. “Give the poor guy a minute to process it all. We did just barge into his house.”
Gabriella took a deep breath and nodded. Cailen collapsed onto one of the couches and patted the cushion beside her. Gabriella sat.
“So Everett had some updates that might help.”
“Yup. He thinks he’s narrowed down the location to this side of the island, somewhere on the southern slice of the East River. He’s going down a list of warehouses as we speak.”
Cailen grinned. “Guy’s tenacious, gotta give him that. But that’s what Isley needs, right? A smaller area to cover?”
“It’ll definitely help. I’m not exactly sure what he does when he ‘walks,’ but if we don’t have to cover the whole island, it’ll save a lot of time.”
“And effort,” said Isley, setting down a tray with cups and another teapot. He delivered two of the cups to the coffee table. “I’m not exactly sure what it is that you imagine I can do, Gabriella, but I don’t have an unlimited window for ‘traveling.’”
“Is Greenpoint-ish by the river a doable target?” she asked.
He considered, nodded. “It is, but we need to get some things straight and set some ground rules first. One, I appreciate that this is urgent, but you need to call first. Don’t just show up at my door uninvited again.”
Gabriella blushed furiously.
“Two: astral projection is not teleportation or instantaneous. I need time to prepare and travel.”
“Three: if I do find this boy, what do you intend to do?”
Gabriella took a deep breath. “I’m going to muffle the kid. He won’t be able to channel a lick of his aura when I’m done with him.”
“And this ‘Conner’?”
Cailen crossed her arms. “I’ll deal with him.”
Gabriella raised an eyebrow, and Isley’s face invited her to expand. She fished the sock full of quarters out of her vest pocket and set it on the coffee table.
“I won’t do anything rash,” Gabriella assured Isley. “Without the kid, he’s just a bunch of air. His talent is automatic writing. Not exactly a spiritual powerhouse or anything.”
Cailen sniffed and retrieved her sock of quarters. “Death by obscurity, huh? Guess that works, too.”
Isley scratched his beard. “Forgive me for doubting you, Gabriella, but your aura suggests you might feel otherwise.”
“I promise to keep my temper in check. Yeah, I’m pissed, but I don’t care about Conner. It’s the kid I’m worried about. He’s out of control. Even if he somehow avoids hurting himself, there’s no way the people around him are gonna be that lucky.”
“She’s being pretty generous about the kid,” Cailen added. “I think he’s one step away from doing it with intent to hurt. He had no problem dropping one on us at the coffee shop, and Julian Ortega ain’t coming back.”
“The taxi driver who died,” Gabriella clarified for Isley.
“He’s getting all the attention he craves now, too,” Cailen continued. “What do you think he’s going to do when Conner’s done with his stupid video blogging? Just go back to school? Be a normal kid? Not a chance.” She turned to Gabriella, inviting her to disagree with her assessment. The woman looked unhappy, but didn’t contradict her.
Cailen crossed her arms again and sank back into the sofa. “If I had the power, I’d fry him.”
Isley sipped at his tea and said nothing for a time. When the cup was empty, he placed it gently onto the tray.
“All right,” he said. “We can begin.”
Gabriella shot straight up off the sofa. “What do you want us to do?”
Isley rose more slowly and motioned them both to a beat-up armchair by the window.
“This is where I’ll be. It takes me a few minutes to get into a proper state of mind, so during that time I need you both to be absolutely quiet and not distract me. Once I begin, it will appear that I’m sleeping. I’ll be aware on some level of my body back here, but generally speaking, once I’m out for a walk, I can’t be reached by conventional means.”
“‘Conventional means’?” Gabriella asked.
“Shaking me, speaking to me, slapping me… The farther away I travel, the less I’ll be aware of these things. If you want my attention, you’ll either have to tug on my astral cord or dump a cup of hot tea in my lap.”
“Please don’t dump a cup of hot tea in my lap,” he said, eyeing Cailen’s face.
“And if you find the kid?”
“I’ll return immediately. Getting back to my body is an easier process than leaving it, so it won’t take as long.”
Gabriella pursed her lips. “It’d be helpful to know when you make contact. We could take off and be on our way to Greenpoint until you call us with the exact details.”
Isley looked at his watch. “It’s just past 5:30 now, and judging from the last video, these are recorded at night. Sunset is around 8:30, so we have roughly three hours.”
“Even more if the kid is slipping out to do this after bedtime,” Gabriella said. “But the sooner we get there, the better. It would give us a chance to get in before they start setting up, maybe.”
He considered for a minute, then took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Cailen looked at Gabriella. The woman shrugged.
Isley released his breath and said, “There. Can you see it?”
“Oh…what?” Cailen asked.
“His aura!” Gabriella exclaimed. “I can see it now.”
Isley nodded. “Good. And now?”
Gabriella studied the space around him, which to Cailen looked no different than before. Sometimes she thought this whole aura business was a little unfair.
“Good. We can use this method, then. When I locate the boy, if I locate the boy,” he added with emphasis, “I’ll signal you. ‘Green’ will be the signal. If you see that, feel free to get moving.”
“Thanks, Professor. That’s perfect.”
He nodded and stretched. “I’ll begin my search at the Williamsburg Bridge and work my way up the waterfront. Please help yourselves to more tea or things from the kitchen. I trust I don’t need to give further instruction about anything else here, though?”
“Crystal clear,” Gabriella assured him. “Thank you again, sir. I mean it.”
His somewhat stern demeanor softened. “You’re welcome.”
The professor turned to a bookshelf and took down what at first glance Cailen had thought was a figurine. A closer look revealed it to be a metronome. She watched with interest as he set it on the windowsill and nudged it into motion. A soft, steady ticking sound filled the room.
He sat down in the chair and composed himself. Within minutes his breathing became slow and even.
Cailen and Gabriella returned to the sofa and watched from a discreet distance.
“Oh!” Gabriella exclaimed softly after a few minutes.
Cailen squinted at the space over his head that Gabriella seemed to be looking at. She could almost make something out… Her spirit sense tickled and a thread of light came into semi-focus.
“String? I see string.”
Gabriella laughed. “Just ‘string’?”
Cailen squinted even harder. “What should I be seeing, exactly?”
“Well, I’m guessing you’re seeing the thread that connects our spirits to our bodies,” the woman said.
“Like the one I tried to grab with the cabbie?”
Gabriella nodded. “Everyone has one. In Isley’s case, though, his seems to be extendable. His thread goes right out the window now and…”
Gabriella stood up and went over to the window in question. “…way off into the distance.”
Cailen whistled appreciatively.
“And what I saw just before,” she continued, “was his entire spiritual form leaving his body and floating off.”
“Sounds way more exciting than string,” Cailen grumbled and slouched deeper into the couch. Gabriella patted her on the shoulder.
Time passed slowly as they finished their teas and chatted quietly. Cailen was unsuccessful in convincing Gabriella to put Aiden in a sleeper hold, and Gabriella failed to sell Cailen on a Broadway show she’d seen advertised in the paper. They were just getting into a heated debate about Brooklyn’s best bars when Gabriella suddenly shot to her feet. Cailen paused mid-sentence and looked around. As far as she could see, Isley was still peacefully sleeping in his chair.
“He found them?” she asked.
Gabriella didn’t answer. She stared hard at the professor, brow furrowed. Then she walked over to him and passed her hand over his head. Cailen stood and joined her.
“Green? Red? Tartan?” Cailen tried again.
“Black…” Gabriella breathed.
“Black? What’s that the signal for? No good?”
Gabriella shook her mass of curls. She dropped to one knee and put a finger to Isley’s neck. “It’s not a signal. It’s a death sentence.”
Gabriella ignored her and ran back to the table to pick up her phone. She pressed frantically at the screen.
“We’re going!” she yelled.
“Where?! What’s happening?!”
Gabriella grabbed her bag and steered Cailen to the door with urgency.
“His aura’s going black! I don’t know why, but that only ends one way and there’s no coming back from it!”
Cailen yanked the door shut behind them. “But what can we do? We don’t even know where he is!”
“We know his starting point and direction!” Gabriella yelled behind her as they spilled out onto the street. “He’s been walking for…forty minutes now?”
“Around that, yeah,” Cailen gasped out as she tried to keep up with Gabriella’s loping form ahead of her.
“His astral form wasn’t all that fast–maybe a slow mile pace–so he’s probably somewhere around the Expo center,” Gabriella yelled back over her shoulder.
“Probably? Are you sure?” Cailen wheezed. “Please tell me we’re not going to run the whole way there!”
Gabriella stopped and whipped her head side to side, looking up and down the street. “If I can’t find a taxi, we are!”
Cailen prayed to the transportation gods as they jogged. Perhaps because she was a sinful person, though, they didn’t answer her until a mile later, when they were almost out of Williamsburg.
Cailen was a shaky mess when they did find one, and the driver gave her a disgusted look as she literally slid into the seat via the sweat on her back. Naturally, Gabriella showed no signs of exertion at all. The only real stress was in her face, fear and anxiety in equal parts.
They sped off. Cailen took the opportunity to seize Gabriella’s wrist.
“Explain…it…to…me…!” she panted.
Gabriella glanced at the map on her phone again before answering.
“The color of your aura tells more than just your mood. If you’re sick or hurt, it shows. If you’re dying…”
Cailen swore under her breath. “But why? He looks fine. Did he go too far? Is he stuck? Shit, maybe he actually found Aiden and…”
“Yeah…that’d be my guess,” Gabriella said. “I can’t think of any other reason for an aura to suddenly go dark unless the body is seriously hurt, and like you said, he’s fine. Something’s got ahold of him and we both know who can do that.”
Cailen digested this as they squeezed through a yellow light and took a corner like an F1 racer. Gabriella had promised the driver a sizeable tip for speed and he was doing his best to deliver.
If Aiden had tied up Isley the way he did errant spirits, would Gabriella be able to undo the knot? Cailen had seen her friend flatten poltergeists in a blink, but Isley was alive. Would it kill him if she went supernova on Aiden? And even if she could, would a live person’s spirit be able to withstand the churning force she’d seen destroy the spirit with the horn-rimmed glasses?
Cailen met Gabriella’s eyes and knew she was wondering the same thing.
The driver slammed on the brakes by a subway stop on Franklin just past the Bushwick Inlet.
“Here good enough?” the cabbie asked.
Gabriella rolled down the window and stuck her head out. Cailen could see slivers of the East River around her in the distance.
“Good enough,” Gabriella confirmed and shoved a wad of bills in his waiting hand. They tumbled out and he was already driving away before Cailen could even get her footing.
Gabriella scanned the sky again.
“Anything?” Cailen asked.
The woman shook her head and turned down a smaller street leading to the waterfront.
It wasn’t going to be that easy, after all. Cailen sighed inwardly. She took a deep breath and hurried after her friend.
They moved at a jog, stopping every now and then so that Gabriella could look up. She was hoping for a glimpse of Isley’s thread, Cailen guessed, but picking out a line in the huge open night sky, glowing or not, seemed impossible to her. Better to rely on more mundane means, in her opinion. She cracked open her phone and called Everett.
“Ev!” she wheezed into the phone. “Tell me you’ve found something!”
“Cailen? No, not yet. I’ve still got a bunch to go. Why? Did something happen?”
“Where are you?” she asked.
“Um…I’m heading down the bank south of Hunters Point. What’s going on?”
Cailen sucked in as much air as her burning lungs would allow.
“Isley went out and can’t come back. The kid must have caught him. It’ll kill him if we can’t cut him loose.”
“Oh my God,” Everett breathed.
“We’re heading north toward Transmitter Park right now. Gabriella thinks he’s got to be somewhere around here, so haul ass down toward us and just sniff every warehouse on the way. I’m sure you’ll catch a whiff of Aiden if he’s near!”
“I’ll try!” Everett yelled, the sound of his pounding feet audible over the line.
Cailen snapped her phone closed and sprinted to catch up with Gabriella.
“He’s working his way down,” Cailen said to her friend’s hopeful gaze. “We’ll find him. We will.”
Gabriella bit her lip and nodded, then turned back toward the sky. It was now thirty minutes since Isley had gone dark.
They continued on.
To be continued in Chapter 9.