14 - Exit Music From a Film

He decided to feign ignorance of Serenity Acres just to see how far it would take him. As it turned out, not very far at all.

It didn't take a genius to figure out he'd gone out to the place he'd asked about earlier in the evening. Not only that, but apparently curiosity got the better of Clay. "After we heard about it – the official statement seems to be a transient accidentally burned it down while squatting in the place, killing himself. Which didn't make sense, because nobody would go all the way out there to squat, or do anything – nobody hangs around there. It feels off." Clay's eyes took on a suspicious glitter, almost amused. "Well, if you were there, you'd know that."

"Sometimes we used that area to test and calibrate instruments," Shane interrupted, getting things back on track. "And we thought maybe we could sneak by, after the fire department and the cops had cleared out, and see what kind of reading we'd get."

"And that was the weird part," Clay interjected, picking up the conversation again. "The instruments barely registered. I mean, that place is usually such a paranormal hotbed it's like pointing a scanner at you. But this time, the paranormal energy was very minimal. Quiet, almost."

"It felt different too," Shane added. "I didn't feel the overwhelming urge to leave."

"It's like they were somehow appeased," Clay finished, staring straight at him, the accusation tacit and obvious.

Gryphon sighed, wondering if he was awake enough to think of a decent lie.

Don't look at me, Ruby said. I can't think of anything that doesn't sound like complete shit.

Damn it. She was the best liar among them – and if she was giving up, he knew he could do no better. With a resigned shrug, he decided to go for a half truth. "I thought maybe I could help them, but after discussing it with my people -"

Don't you bring us into this, Taneesha snapped.

"- I decided it was better if I went off on my own. It might have been dangerous if I brought you guys along."

They both stared at him with varying shades of disbelief, before Clay exclaimed, "Might have been dangerous? Those crazy ghosts have killed people! And look what they did to you!"

"They didn't do this to me." It was out of his mouth before he could stop it. Damn.

Clay and Shane exchanged the same puzzled glance they always seemed to share when they were with him, and Shane – as always – asked first. "Then who did that to you?"

No way out. Shit! "Louis Stanhope."

The shock was palpable. After several seconds of pained silence, Clay exclaimed (beating Shane to it for once), "What? How did he – "

"It doesn't matter." He really didn't want to talk about this. "He wasn't very popular among the dead, especially the restless ones that are stuck at Serenity Acres. They wanted him; they got him."

"Wanted him?" Shane repeated, as if testing out the phrase, seeing if the chamber was empty.

"They wanted a target. They picked him. That's why they're so quiet now. They have their punching bag."

Clay turned away, hand to his mouth, while Shane remained laconic and unflappable, more a monument than a man. "They killed him?" It almost wasn't a question.

"Yeah." He wasn't about to admit Ruby did it, and even so, the Serenity Acres people would probably have preferred taking credit for it.

I got tagged before, Ruby said grimly. It wasn't happening again.

I don't know how anyone got you when you were alive, Ray said. You're completely fuckin' scary.

Clay sighed heavily, as if punched in the gut. "Shit. What if they identify him by dental records?"

"They won't. Don't ask me how, but the dead seem to take care of their own." It sounded stupid as hell, but it must have been true, because how else could you explain the fact that he wasn't on the F.B.I.'s most wanted list as a serial killer? By all rights, he should be. It wasn't like they could charge his former passengers for doing the deeds themselves.

He looked around for some water – his mouth was as dry as a sand trap – and didn't see any, unless that was the stuff in that one bag dripping shit into his arm. He heard a distant bleeping of machines somewhere in the room, beyond the blue curtain on his left, but nowhere near him. "They wonder why they couldn't hook machines to me?"

"For a while, yeah. We tried to make up some bullshit story, but couldn't figure out anything that sounded remotely feasible," Shane admitted. He turned towards the window, crossing his arms over his chest as he looked out at the gray sky. "We got lucky; I think they eventually just gave up."

"I get that reaction from a lot of people." He then realized that it sounded like it had taken a while for the giving up to occur. Oh no. "How long have I been here?"

Shane glanced over his shoulder, but didn't turn around. "Two days."

We could have told you that, Hugh said. At least we've been able to keep others out, so far.

Gryphon groaned deep in his dry throat, letting his head fall back and staring up at the ceiling. It was that weird panel type with little holes. What was that called? He swallowed hard, and asked, ironically, "Will I live?"

Clay snorted a small laugh, that earned him a scolding glance from Shane. He ignored it, in that casual way that people who have been together for a while always managed to do. "Well, they'd probably feel better if they could use some machines on ya, but yeah, it looks like it. Good thing too, as we're getting swamped with cases, and we need you back on point."

"Rachel and Kevin were very pleased with what you did for them," Shane said, answering some questions before he could ask. "We went back and swept the area, after they finished exhuming the remains, and there's zero ghostly activity; the Stanhopes are gone in more than just a physical sense. They are a little squeamish about moving into a place where there were bodies buried in the backyard, but they've sunk too much money into it to up and move now."

"Can't blame 'em." If he could move out of his ghost infested body, he would too.

"No. But Kevin's been passing on the good word, and we've been getting some interesting calls. The Oregon Historical Society wants us to go into the old Hardin mansion and confirm whether there's a ghost in there or not. They'd rather we didn't ask it to leave if we find one, though."

"Good for tourism," Clay added.

If it was a poltergeist, Gryph bet they'd feel a hell of a lot different. "So I guess I got the gig?"

This got a rare smile from Shane. It was fragile, though, and didn't last long. "You're certainly not a fraud. But I realize you might not wanna."

"But we'd consider it a major favor if you did," Clay said, his eyes bright with eagerness. Gryph could now imagine the wagging tail on the stocky woodman's body, and it was a pretty comical mental image. Did he ever not wear plaid shirts? "Since we can charge more for these high profile gigs, you'll certainly get a raise."

Gryphon bit his lower lip as he thought, watching the liquid drip drip drip down from the nearest IV bag. Take it, Mr. Aronofsky urged. It might be good for you to settle down for a bit, take up a hobby besides drinking yourself into a stupor.

Or, at least you got steady money to drink yourself into a stupor, Ray chimed in.

Don't encourage him, Mr. Aronofsky replied sharply.

But what if he was death? Now that he was mostly conscious, it sounded incredibly silly. Did he really want to fall into the Stanhope trap, think he was far more than he really was?

He was cursed. Or damned, or filled with bad mojo – something, anything like that. He had to learn to live with it, or it really would kill him, sooner than his passengers would. And he'd be lying if he said he didn't need the money. "Well … I don't have any plans …"

Clay exclaimed "Yes!" and pumped his fist in the air, but when he noticed both him and Shane staring at him, he hid his fist behind his back and cleared his throat, trying to pretend he hadn't done that. "I mean, great."

"Do you think you could ask Kevin to do a favor for me? I mean, without charging."

Shane shrugged, nonchalant. "I don't see why not."

"I've been trying to find Edith Broslowski, Mr. Aronofsky's sister-in-law. Last we found, she won the Washington lottery and moved to Florida, and we hope she can tell us where Beatrice, Mr. Aronofsky's wife, is. Do you think he could make some inquiries, search some property records …?"

Shane nodded, seemingly sure, although there was no way he could be. "That shouldn't be a problem. I can ask him to come by."

"That would be great, thanks."

Don't do this just for me, Mr. Aronofsky said, but he sounded just a little relieved. Maybe now they could find Beatrice, and not have to chance hurricanes or cockroaches the size of coconuts to do it.

Gryphon knew he needed to take it easy for now. He'd been too sick too long, and had put himself at too much risk. Wandering around, going nowhere, sleeping in his car and drinking more than eating wasn't going to serve him well. It hadn't so far.

So, he decided. He could stay here for a few weeks, and if he made a few bucks and talked to a few bored ghosts, who would it hurt?

Death waited for no one, but no one said it had to be in a big hurry.


The End