Chapter 02 – Ghosts from the past
It was curiosity more than any real desire to relive our glory days that made me agree to meet Mike. Mike was part of my past. A reminder that not every dream comes true no matter what you do or how hard you try, but there was that “what the hell factor.” I mean something that could turn a devoted Catholic priest who in my opinion was the shining example of pure faith and selflessness suddenly drops the collar and starts wearing a long leather trench coat. I mean he looked like he could step into one of my novels and become a kick as serial killer. I had to know what on earth had that kind of power. I had to have the answer to that question. What could tear the faith from the truly faithful?
As I waited I ordered another scotch. The waitress was always fast to bring me my drinks. My glass never went empty here. Of course I could easily spend three hours sitting downing my drinks and writing horrible fiction. That is what reviewers call my books now. Horrible predictable fiction. As I sipped my drink I scanned the bar with its panel type oak on the walls and the chip marks along the bar. You can still see the marks that along the bottom where there was once a brass plated poke for people to place their feet on. Lousy idea though. The patrons of this place were mostly over weight construction workers and retired vets so in the first month they had made it look like the remains of a five car pileup. Of course I liked the place. It was an uneventful environment for old drunks like me. Well except for the green and red carpet. Joe the owner slapped down the ugly carpet and renamed “Joe’s Irish pub.” It was no more Irish then I was, but with the exception of the name nothing changed. Absolutely uneventful.
Maude came by dropping another drink on table as she passed. “Are you working on a new novel John?” She was in her late 50’s and always turned away when she passed to give me a look at her finely shaped ass. I have known her for ten years now and abusive boyfriends with time added in had stolen her youthful complexion, but it had not effect on her back end. It still looked so firm that you could bounce a quarter off of it. In her youth we used to try that, but like most things those days are long gone.
“No I am here to meet a friend tonight,” I responded.
With a sour face she raised an eyebrow and snorted, “A lady friend?” I could see the resentment in her gaze. For too long now she had hinted then offered and finally almost begged to be the next Mrs. Johnathon Douglas, but that ship had sailed and sank too many times now. For me love and marriage was the equivalent to booking a cruise on the titanic. Doomed to sink with little hope of survival. As I took another swig I heard a loud horrible roar followed by an earth shaking chugging sound. Damn bikers I thought. It did not happen from time to time. Of course they never stayed around because the bar was so uneventful and there were no young hottie’s here to harass.
I responded “He may seem a little girly, but that is because he is a priest or at least he was one,” as I tapped the hard table top.
Maude responded with a loud toothless laugh, “Oh my Johnathon if your friend is trying to save your soul he will need a lifetime to do it and an Angel on his shoulder.” Now she may not have had the prettiest smile with only two or three nicotine stained teeth left and so many faint wrinkles that her face looked like a plowed field when she smiled, but her laughter was always genuine. She looked back with a wink and snorted, “I cannot imagine that you have ever been in a church let alone know a priest.”
As a slapped the table I continued, “Know him. I grew up with him and for all I know the devil in me is the reason that he went into the church and stayed.” A loud voice bellowed, “I had to in order to try and save that tattered soul and cold heart of yours.” As I looked up there was Mike and a young red head trouncing through the door way. It still amazed me to see Mike in faded black jeans with a wrinkled black shirt that had seen many day worth of wear by the looks of it and a long scratched up leather jacket that went down to his knees. His eyes still twinkled, but his whole face looked too worn. I am sure if a strong wind hit him that he would fall down. I had seen that look before when I was in the Persian Gulf War. Officially Canada was there doing peace keeping only, but unofficially a select few of us were deep in the thick of it. It’s there that you see what you are made of. Barely sleeping and when you do it’s not real restful sleep because your wanders. You cannot do the things we did or see the things we saw and not be affected by it. Well there are those that can, but usually they end up on the news after a country wide search and the reasons are never good. If I did not know any better I would swear that Mike had just returned from war.
As Mike sat down he pointed to the woman beside him and said, “I would like you to Raven. She is Damien’s cousin,” and his voice trailed off like he was lying through his teeth and realized it. Mike never had a great poker face. The lying bastard may be a priest, but the look on his face told me that he was up to no good. Besides we had no red heads in the family. Dark haired people we were. It’s the native in us I think, but either way I could see it in his eyes.
I was about to tell him so when the red head Raven snapped out with a thick accent, “I am actually Damien’s wife’s cousin, but we are all one big family now,” as she batted her eyes and produced a well-practiced smile.
“Oh I see you are Damien’s wife’s cousin. What part of Russia are you from?” I asked. I am not really sure what I was expecting to hear. Maybe some kind of lie about the country side or a city then I could catch her in a lie because I knew that her accent as sexy as it sounded was no Russian accent.
Without even a thought she responded, “Yes Destiny is from Russia, but I am Romanian.” She had that look in her eyes like she was trying to read me the same way I was trying read her. She smiled a well-practiced smile that had that I am a little shy look and continued, “I am from the city of Timisoara. Have you heard of it?”
I responded, “Oh yes. What is it that the tour guide called it when I was there? “
I knew very well what they called it to attract tourists, but before I could continue with the charade this Raven character popped out with, “Do you mean Little Vienna? They say it’s because of all the Austrian influences, but I think it’s just so that tourists like you will come there.” With a slight giggle she added, “Well and Mike of course. Men like him come to see the Catedrala Mitropolitană din Timișoara. Even though it’s an Orthodox church the Catholics love to come and see the amazing interior. Have you seen it?”
Ok at this point I began to believe that the woman in front of me was Rumanian. By the way she looked I was beginning to think that she was going to start describing the place. I had been there before that honestly did not want to spend the whole which would have taken all night. I slipped in with, “Yes I have seen it and know how amazing it looks. The painter did such an amazing job inside.”
As Muriel looked over Mike cleared his throat and staring over said, “Two drafts please. Whatever you have in tap will do just fine.” He immediately looked me in the eyes and said, “John I need something from you,” as he tapped the table with his finger. He stopped for just long enough for two drafts and a scotch to be dropped off then continued,” I need your skills and knowledge.”
As I leaned back in my chair I could not help, but wonder what happened to clean cut dependable Mike. He not sported tangled shoulder length hair and a scruffy beard that looks like he has not been groomed for weeks. I liked the look of this new wild child priest I was not sure if I could trust him. The man I knew no longer existed and something told me that I was not going to really like the outcome of this favor. “What knowledge and skills are you exactly talking about?”
Leaning back Mike slowly played with his beard for a bit before he asked, “I need you to help me find someone. I mean you were in the army then were a cop and I assume have contacts for all those crime books that you write.”
I responded, “Yes, but most of what I write and so no is simply crash based on the stuff you see in the news. I have not done real investigative police work in almost a decade and even then Damien was the one that seemed to do all the work.” As I watched his pleading eyes the thought crossed my mind that Damien should be his first choice. “Why not call Damien and see if he can help. He is still a cop with a badge and a gun the last time I heard.”
Mike’s head dropped as he simply tapped the table top. Each time his finger nail connected with the wood there was a little tip noise. As he swirled his finger he said, “I guess you really never check your email?”
As Raven slurped her beer I responded, “Not as much as I should. Stop beating around the bush and just come out and tell me what is going in.”
Mike gulped before stating, “Damien’s dead Mike. I emailed you almost a year ago telling you that we were holding a funeral even though we had not located a body.”
I snapped up shaking the table and screamed, “So he is missing you mean right?” I really do not know why I was so angry at Mike, but I was blazing mad and continued, “You never say a person is dead until you find the body. No body means missing and you search for it. God damn it you keep searching for it until you find it.”
Mike just dropped his head in shame and mumbled, “He did. I mean we are still searching.”
My fist snapped the table leaving a hollow echo and a shooting pain as I said, “Nobody searches for a body after the funeral unless…” As I looked in Mike’s eyes I saw genuine pain. “Unless the person does not want to be found or there’s a reason to not want the authorities to search for them.” As I gripped my chin the thought occurred to me that Damien had been undercover and presumed dead many times. Not just here either. In the USA when he was chasing the child porn ring, in the UK and Thailand when he was chasing the sex slave industry. After I wrote about going under cover and making the biggest drug bust in a combined Canadian and American sting he never trusted me again. Actually he never spoke to me again, but he was a tough bastard and seen too much to just go missing. As I stared down at Mike I realized that he truly believed Damien was dead. He truly believed it and it hurt him so much that it rocked his faith. You are a real son of a bitch Damien for doing this to Mike. “You do realize that he might just be undercover?”
Shaking her head this Raven woman said, “No he is not undercover. He would never leave Destiny or Innocence for any reason, but Death. I am not saying that he is dead just that he is not home at the present.
I asked, “How exactly is Destiny and Innocence?”
Mike responded, “That’s Damien’s wife and daughter.”
I just sat there floored by the news. I was disappointed to hear that Damien was not there for his wife and daughter. My stomach turned because I knew that despite anything the world could say about my little cousin he was dead. That is the only reason he would leave his daughter alone. He was one if those guys that latched on and never let go to everything he did in life. So if he was not there for his wife it meant that he was dead. I had to struggle to hold back the tears because he may have hated me with a passion, but I honestly adored him like a baby brother.
Mike looked at me and in a serious tone said, “Listen John, I am going to be asking you for a lot I know, but there is no other way. I have been through all the channels and the authorities so now I need your special skills.”
“Mike what do you need from me?” It seemed like a simple enough question. In my experience people screw around because they do not want to hear no. I like the direct method. I knew that I was going to like this, but I was here so let’s see what I will be doing that I do not want to.
Mike gulped down his beer stared at the red head Raven and just blurted out, “I need you to help me find two women.”
I leaned back in my chair played with my moustache a bit to add suspense and drama before asking, “Who are these two woman?” Mike looked like a deer caught in the head lights before I continued, “More importantly who are they too me that scares the hell out of you to ask this of me?” just by the look in his eyes I knew that this was not going to be good for me in anyway. Mind you it HD been quite some time since I had any adventure. Thailand with Damien if memory serves me correctly and that time I got myself stabbed in the back along with 27 stitches. There is not a whole lot else in this world that scare you when you have faced stealing a hooker from the Asian mob.
Mike dropped his head again and whispered, “Veronica and her daughter are missing and the girl’s boyfriend was murdered three weeks ago her in Toronto.”
Ok so maybe I was not prepare for everything. I had spent too many years already chasing Veronica’s shadow. Too many nights holding onto a smile, an idea and a dream that revolved around her. It took five years before I could closed my eyes and not find the image of that smile followed by her laugh filling my mind. I closed my eyes and covered them with my hands. Good that image did not comes to mind. I was still ok. “Mike you are asking too much. That woman is dead to me Mike and she needs to stay that way.” In the back of my eyes I know that tears were forming because I was feeling all choked up just thinking about her. I downed my drink and ordered two more doubles before Continuing, “Mike I cannot go back there. If I go down this road again I might find my way home. A part of my will always love her I know that, but I have spent too much chasing her already.”
Mike just responded, “I know that I am asking for a lot, but …”
I cut in, “You are asking me to trade whatever life I have now even off it is a horrible drunken existence to start chasing the same ghost that I have been running from my whole life. If I allow myself to continue chasing her again it will just like it was only this time I will have nowhere else to run to.”
Mike opened one of those leather man purses and pulled out a tablet of some kind. “Everything you need to know is in a folder on the desktop called Desiree. Look it over tonight and tell me if you help us”. I could see the tears forming in his eyes as he set the device down. Even if you will not help us anything that you could tell us about what you see and feel would be a great help. As Mike and miss fancy pants walked away I decided that I would do it for Damien. Solve one last case in honor of his memory then I might even head back to that one horse town and pay my respects.
As I sat at my desk and saw the name on the police report my heart sank. Veronica Andersen in be bold letters. For so long I pretended that somehow over time she had lost her charm and place in my heart but I knew that was a lie. As I went through the details of the case it was like being kicked in the stomach over and over again. I did not need to see her birth date or read about the amazing baby blue eyes that was just a slight shade away from being the color of the clearest ocean sea because those details never left me. I did need to know what evidence they found at the crime scene. Slowly I scanned through the details. Two woman missing. A mother and a daughter. Desiree Ann Andersen age 19. I was choked up a little because Ann was my mother’s name. Why would a woman who despised me so much that she would not even spit on me if I was on fire name her daughter after my mother. Well maybe it was just a coincidence or I guess the ass that she married had a mother named Ann. Stranger things has happened. Cute kid though.
All the blood found at the scene belonged to this Billy kid. The corner states that his through was torn away and arms ripped out of there sockets. Brutal way to die. Possible animal attack he says. As I went through the pictures that boy had been abused. Defensive wounds on his hands so he fought back. Bruising on the wrists look like somebody had clamped on them with great force. I have seen more than enough woman with similar bruising to know what they were. Still I can think of no man that could yank a man’s arms right out of his sockets. Maybe a gorilla, but not any man I have seen. Snap the bones or dislocate yes. But never tear them right out. That takes great strength. Super human strength. As I poured a drink I thought we were searching for a super villain so all I needed to do was search for a giant wearing tights. Easy peezy.
After a second glass has went down I went back to the pictures. One by one. The coroner stated that the marks on the throat looked like they were canine. I can see where he was heading but the actual bites and torn away looked too small to be a dog or wolf besides if an animal did that certainly I would have read about someone seeing it. There was a picture of a twelve inch bruise in the middle of his back. As I looked closer there was an imprint and the word NII in it. What kind of dog wears size twelve shoes and can rip off arms.
As I read the next page of the report there was a heading miscellaneous details. Pictures show more blood scattered along the pavement and blood splatter half way up the wall, but shortly after dawn the only thing they found were burn marks. Wild dogs do not burn evidence. The guilty do that. Scatter pieces of brick were all over the place. Damage reported on the lower part of the wall and above the second story window. Definitely something Damien would have loved to chase. Weird mystery with no reasonable reason.
As I opened the folder marked pictures phone I truly was not sure that I wanted to look. This Desiree kid was more than a missing teen. She was my dream child. She was something I dreamed I would one day have with Veronica, but never got to have. Even now I can feel my hands tremble just thinking about it. This young woman was the answer to the prayers I once prayed for. Hell she is even part of the reason I could never return home. The town folk there think I became rich and decided that I was too big for that little one horse town, but the truth is the town was not big enough not to remind me of her. When you really love someone. I do not mean want their body, miss there touch and what have you. Strangers find that over drinks at the bar and what I am talking about has so much more meaning then that. What I mean is you visual and plan a life together. The house you will live in, the exact street and even those little romantic secret things you share. Once all that is in your heart and it falls apart everything changes. I did not just talk away our home together I built the damn thing. Every detail that she described and we talked about went into it. I spent $300000 building it which was a lot back then. I have never been in it but it’s still there on the corner of Main Street and Douglas Avenue. I just cannot live there or sell the damn thing. Originally it was like saying I give up and over time it changed into a symbol. That symbol is that love is a lie. In only exists in the heat of the moment. Once it’s lost you are just screwed to live with the memories. That what looking at these pictures of Veronica’s daughter means. She is like that house. A dream that once you latch onto it you can never let go and I think my heart is haunted by enough ghosts. As I closed the tablet I poured a double. Damn you mike. You knew from the start that if I opened that police report I would not be able to let go.
I let all the details linger in my mind a bit. I needed to remove the fantasy of the woman I was knew go and look at the stranger now. I really see no rhyme or reason in this. They were tourists obviously. Nobody that lives in this city goes to Toronto’s Dundas-Sherbourne corridor. Hell even some of the cops don’t want to go there. I cannot see it being drug related or even robbery because the dead kid still has his wallet with $200.00 in it. I pondered this for a while because there is always cause and effect for everything I just cannot see it.
I went the closet and slowly dug my way towards the back. I went past the hand guns that had saved my life so many times, past the bottle of 25 years whisky that I have been saving for just the right occasion and there it was. I yanked out a small tattered box. As I went back to my chair I was surprised just how new the box looked even after all the years. As I popped the box open the first thing I saw was the rose colored cover of my book. This was a unique version. It was flawed like me. Pages 175 and 276 were blank and the printers had misspelled my name. In gold letters Johnathon was spelled Johnathon. They call it a proof copy.
As I pulled the book out a tattered picture fell out and landed on the floor by my feet. I had not allowed myself to look at this picture for many years, but for some reason I just could not throw it away. Just another reminder. Another token of a broken heart. My eyes watered as I stared down at the picture. Veronica was wearing that nasty blue sweater. I never understood why she liked it so much. It had holes everywhere, but it looked good on her. She had her hand bunched up in her sleeve covering her mouth, but the way her eyes twinkled you always knew that behind that hand was a shy smile. I had used that image in my novels before. Every novel I wrote had a piece of Veronica in it somewhere. A passerby in the crowd, that waitress whose image stuck with you and the list goes. That is the problem with true love. Even after the spark fails and you lose the one you love your heart can never truly let go.
I sat there rocking fighting back the tears and said Veronica what did you get yourself into? What am I going to do now? Saving you is going to destroy me again.