Prologue- Mere Moments
Rain streamed down Garret's face as he stared though the dark at the burnt down warehouse, its ancient brick having crumbled away and caved in. Each moment of that night played back through his head, the terror, the rush, the relief at the sight of the child still breathing as she cowered in the closet. He saw his breath on the inside of his breathing mask, the warning lights and chimes ringing in his ears when he couldn't go any further, his free arm swinging the axe with a strength he didn't think he had, the girl falling from his arms into those of the rescuer beneath him on the ladder. And then he looked back at the flames running toward him, stomping toward him, stalking toward him. Back in the present day he felt his right hand shaking, remembered grasping the axe tight in both hands as he faced this unearthly hot beast that was suddenly upon him. It paused before opening its jaws to devour him, and its eyes peered into his soul. He felt the mask melting onto his face and it grew harder to breath, but he stood up against his training, against all fear. He didn't even feel the heat anymore.
Garret gasped and came back to the present once more, hearing brakes squeak as a car pulled up behind him. He took in a deep breath; ah, the detective, Annalee and her floral fragrance. The red light on her dash cast a traversing red across the ruin of the warehouse as she walked up behind him. He could hear her sigh over the sound of her shoes somehow. "This isn't your investigation, Garret. Arson's still looking into it, but the leads are pretty thin. Unless…you have information you want me to pass on?"
He looked back at her, his eyes flashing that troubling bright green she'd seen before in several moments away from her peers after he'd returned, several seconds or long, cold minutes where she saw him do things she'd not thought possible. Their relationship had been one of largely grim professional hours spent chasing the worst of mankind, passing exchanges of dark humor, or those hot blooded instances where they were only kiss-length away from stating an unspoken curiosity within the both of them. "No," he chuckled half-heartedly. "Just…remembering. They're not gonna catch the guy that started this fire."
Annalee shrugged, squinting at him for understanding from under her umbrella. "Why do you say that?"
Garret turned fully toward her and stepped closer. "Much like the rest of the things you've seen with me, Detective Cross, the truth to that would be pretty hard to understand."
He opened the front passenger door and got in, leaving Annalee to pause and look over the ruin before returning to her auto. Six months ago, before two seasons and a blur of memories had left their mark, this had been a magnificent blaze in which it was thought that two firefighters had died. The next day, they had climbed from the ashes of the building, virtually untouched. One of those men still rode Engine 44 and the other… She cast a glance back at Garret, a chill running down her spine. Giving the old warehouse one last look, she retired to the driver's seat of her unmarked Interceptor and they sped off into the deluge.
Chapter 1 – Who is Garret Geiger?
Garret stared ahead, leaning with his elbow on the door and his head on his hand. Annalee watched the streetlamps pass overhead, glancing at the cars that went by. She nearly resented Garret for making her drive so far to pick him up. How did he get that far out of town anyway? She rolled her eyes as she considered that the question was pretty low on the totem pole, insomuch as what she could question about him.
"So, did you have a case for me, or are we just grabbing breakfast for dinner at Boppo's?" he grumbled, just as she was about to speak.
She growled under her breath, ignoring his question involving her second favorite diner ever in the area. "Los Restos PD has been having an influx of these peculiar cases ever since you came to town, Mr. Geiger. If anything, we should be bringing you in for questioning as part of a larger plot, some sort of conspiracy!"
He sighed loudly and she clenched her teeth as he spoke. "Let's cut the flirty chit-chat, Annalee. I'm sure you wanna get this done so you can go home, text your boyfriend kissy emojis and go to bed while staring at the picture of you and your folks you keep on your nightstand from your youth back in Podunk! And I…wanna get back to eating cold Chinese food, drinking scotch I can't afford and letting Netflix be my guide to the closest I can get to sleep!"
"You know, you got most of that right, Garret, aside from the fact that I haven't spoken to Kyle in weeks since he chose a career in Singapore over me," Annalee hissed, then put on her fakest smile. "But enough of the niceties, right? There's a family in Riverside and their daughter's been having seizures and showing up with injuries. Mr and Mrs Lawton haven't had much luck trying to get help for their little girl. Capella Memorial Hospital reported the injuries to us, and CPS is threatening to take the little girl. The parents set up cameras to find out what happened, because…"
"Because they suspect paranormal influence?" Garret interrupted, smirking. "In Riverside, eh? Go on."
She sighed angrily. "So….the cameras show the girl being lifted and hurt and twisted by some unseen force. Its pretty graphic. My bosses want this situation contained, and the feds even more. They've been calling the captain nonstop and they-"
"I don't wanna talk to the feds, Annalee!" Garret groaned, finally turning to face her. "I told you, I just wanna stay a local show; they're gonna have me all over the country, no time to myself, playing Scooby Doo and The Gang with their federal superhero goon squad!"
"Triton 7 is a well-respected international task force!" Annalee told him. "You'd be lucky to get invited to join them. Or there's the West Coast Rangers right here in Los Restos?"
He shook his head and scoffed. "I'm not trying to wear another uniform, Annalee. That's not me, not anymore."
"Wish I could've known you before…" she muttered under her breath.
"Wouldn't have mattered. Tina was pretty controlling, she wouldn't have liked me hanging out with other women, let alone one as pretty as you," he grumbled. She blushed and he continued. "Seems like a lot longer than seven months ago."
Annalee had done quite the investigation on Garret Geiger before they'd begun their professional partnership half a year ago. A firefighter with five years' experience, he'd been with Tina Taggart for eight years, in and out of jail after being discharged from the Army in his third year and fourth deployment. Their beautiful little girl, Gwen had been caught up in the middle of their troubled relationship for the first three years of her life, somehow happy, outgoing and stable despite her dad's shortcomings and her mother's mood swings. The fire service brought a formerly unknown stability to the young family and for the next five years, everything seemed post-card pretty. Everything changed the night of the AdvanTech Fire.
AdvanTech, LLC had essentially abandoned the warehouse, with an undocumented amount of technology and chemicals stored in the lowest floors, where the fire began. Engine Co. 44 arrived on scene to a fully involved warehouse fire, and Captain Lawrence Lamar Lincoln, "L3" to his closest friends, got his team to work. L3 called for a four alarm fire, and additional resources arrived shortly. He turned over command to Battalion Chief Warren Stamp, and he and his best man, Firefighter Garret Geiger went to search and rescue with a charged line while exterior lines cleared them an entry and prevented the fire from spreading. Inside, they looked for the security guard who was supposed to be on duty. Command lost contact with them and never regained it, sending in rapid intervention teams to no avail; for hours they searched after the fire was doused. When the two men reappeared the next day, it was described as "miraculous." Both men were changed, Garret more than L3—their friendship wouldn't be the only relationship to suffer.
Garret went home the shell of a man. Annalee's investigation turned up talks with a therapist; Tina had insisted when he showed a lack of empathy or emotion at home. Once a fun and loving man, the firefighter was now uninterested and seemed to be going through the motions at work and at home. L3 had been reassigned, unable to face Garret or the truths of what they'd been through, truths no one could seem to pry from either man. Tina pressed for a divorce, and Garret went along with it. Even little Gwen could see a difference in her daddy and their relationship suffered. After the divorce, Tina took Gwen and they moved up to Temecula near her parents. Garret had been left standing on their front porch from their home—in Riverside—watching them drive off, knowing he was supposed to feel something, but unable to, unmoved in that moment, changed by the unspoken trauma of the fire. Shortly thereafter, he left the fire service and around the same time, bizarre cases began to spring up all around the Los Restos area.
As a special investigations detective, Annalee had been assigned to these cases where victims presented with inexplicable injuries or damages to their homes or businesses; she'd never imagined that such a thing as the occult was real, let alone a major factor in a case she was working. But still, she found herself as puzzled as she was terrified by the things she was seeing, under pressure from the police chief and a Captain "Skipper" Sam Stokes from the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command to keep the nature of such cases under wraps. Besides the mysterious injuries, damages and disappearances, she had begun to see a large number of men and women with short, clean haircuts and dressed in dark clothing ranging from casual attire to suits going in and out of local government buildings, hospitals and even her crime scenes, signing rosters only with an "X." Annalee had found herself feeling well in over her head, when she met Garret Geiger.
Handsome, lean and still somewhat athletic in build, with somewhat short, messy sandy hair, dark tanned skin and eyes the most reddish shade of copper she'd ever seen in a person, she could admit he was strikingly attractive at first. He'd been at a diner late one night when a young woman had seemingly had a panic attack after a taunting message had been written in a steam cloud on the inside of the window at her table despite the warm weather they'd been having. Annalee responded almost right behind the patrolman, and she, he and the diner owner were the only witnesses of what Garret had done for the girl. What the detective saw that night would have left her shaken for the rest of her life if it weren't for the fact that she'd seen the former fireman do it again and again for half a year. It hadn't gotten that much easier, especially when she found out that shortly after Garret intervened, the mysterious Darkly Dressed people usually took charge of the scene and no one ever seemed to hear from the victims again. That meant, of course, that one of her favorite diners had closed, and that was sadly the greatest tragedy she had personally felt from these cases.
After that event at the diner, though, she was formally introduced to Skipper Stokes and a few of his nameless Darkly Dressed minions from NAVSPECWARCOM and Garret Geiger was brought in and introduced as her partner in a joint venture to address the sudden outbreak of occult-related crimes in Los Restos with as much discretion as possible. The Skipper was an energetic older man who made it clear to Annalee and Garret that should they fail to maintain discretion, he and Triton 7 would be taking over any such cases. Annalee, eager to prove the competence and excellence of herself and the LRPD, expressed her intentions to keep it in local hands. She could not forget the complete and utter apathy Garret had expressed at that otherwise tense meeting, feeling the others in the room falling flat when they looked at him for a response. He did seem to perk up when The Skipper told him that if they did fail in maintaining discretion, he would become a potential federal offender due to "illegal usage of superpowers at a federal crime scene," what Annalee saw as a ridiculous abuse of power in order to strong-arm Garret into their custody.
So, they became partners, investigating case after case of chilling confrontations that people throughout the city or surrounding townships in the county had suffered. Beyond the background investigation and her initial attraction, Annalee quickly got to know how difficult it was getting to know Garret, let alone working with him. He was solemn, grim and blunt most frequently, sarcastic and cynical at his most colorful, but never moody, angry or even joyful. At crime scenes, he said things that were better left unsaid in front of victims and never attempted to comfort them. With Annalee, he never tried to discuss a particular difficult case or make jokes or ask about her day or family at first. It wasn't as if he were doing it to be cruel, she could tell that right away and thought it odd. When she asked about his "condition," he refused to explain, and when she asked The Skipper since it was clear he knew more than he let on, he expectedly warned her that it was "classified." Frustrated, Annalee resigned to simply getting to know him through their work together, simply voicing when he had "forgotten" to show empathy. They had come up with a good system, and after six months, he had improved greatly in taking appropriate paths in conversation. He could still be a dick, though.
The home of James and Amanda Lawton was on the corner of 3rd Street and Avenue F, a little yellow one story with a white fence and a well-manicured lawn. Annalee couldn't help but smile at the adorable little family home, a little pink bicycle leaned up against the side of the front steps. She looked over at Garret, wondering if the home he and his family had shared was anything like it. He glanced over the residence with a consistently dispassionate expression and his eyes flashed green as she cut the engine. "The smell of fear, anger and resentment is heavy here, but hey, it's the suburbs," Garret grumbled.
Annalee scoffed as they got out of the car. "This is your old neighborhood!"
He smirked at her. "My wife divorced me. Don't you think I know what anger and resentment smell like?"
She frowned as she opened the gate and started up the walkway to the house. The afternoon sun hung low behind the clouds as the rain finally began to let up. "Sorry, I didn't figure that the soulless psychic detective would have his feelings hurt so easy!" she grumbled.
Garret scoffed as they neared the door. "Good thing I don't have a soul. That might've hurt my feelings…bitch."
Annalee gasped and swatted his arm, then knocked on the door. "I know I don't have to tell you to try to be compassionate, right? It's not the first time we had to deal with something targeting children."
He didn't respond, only adjust his softshell jacket and clearing his throat as he stared at the door, which opened shortly, with a small, thin woman in her 30's of porcelain complexion and shoulder-length wavy black hair clad in a pastel blue blouse and capris, her otherwise pretty face marred by the puffy eyes one got from crying a lot. Behind her, a brown-haired man of similar age in a white collared shirt and khakis approached, holding a glass with what looked like whiskey sloshing around in it; he also wore the harried expression of a worried parent. The woman offered a half-hearted smile and said with a voice just above a whisper: "Detective Cross?"
Annalee smiled supportively. "Yes, ma'am. Are you Amanda and James Lawton?"
The man was now right behind his wife. He narrowed his eyes and gestured toward Garret with the glass of whiskey. "So, this is the psychic? The ghost-hunter?"
"'Parapsychological and Paranormal Investigator,'" Garret corrected him. "Specters are only one variety of pest I deal with."
The man groaned. "This is ridiculous." He looked down at his wife. "Amanda, this is ridiculous. Willa needs a real psychologist, not this two-bit ghost hunter!" He looked up at Annalee then. "It's just shameful that the police are working with this charlatan!"
Garret almost said something razor-tongued, or Annalee figured, because she grabbed the back of his arm when he opened his mouth. "With all due respect, Mr. Lawton, Mr. Geiger here has helped us solve several cases and his efforts have saved lives, both of citizens and police officers. I have full faith that he can help your family, as well."
James Lawton sighed, then swallowed half the whiskey in his glass. "I've got friends in city hall, detective. If you can't help me, I can almost guarantee this 'good cop, ghost cop' routine won't be going on for too much longer. Do I make myself clear?"
Annalee fought back her anger, feeling her face warm with it. "Of course, sir." She shot a quick glance at Garret, who shrugged at her, so she looked back at the Lawtons. "Please, show us to your daughter."
James backed away and Amanda led them through the quaint little family home, decorated with contemporary furniture, artwork depicting the countryside and dozens of family photos, both of the household and of distant relatives, especially of a patriarch long since passed. Though she was no psychic, Annalee could feel a chill in the air, a sort of sad heaviness as if there had been great joy and now only the omen of ongoing sadness awaited to fill its absence. Garret's eyes flashed green as he looked around the hallway, then the den and then the back hallway, and Annalee heard Amanda Lawton yelp when she saw it.
"Don't worry, ma'am, that's normal!" she reassured her. "That's how he interacts with whatever is troubling our clients."
"Well, what is it? Some sort of high-tech contact lens?" Amanda stammered as she led on, throwing nervous glances back at Garret.
"No. Think of it as x-ray vision; it allows me to see into the areas where things like to hide," he explained, his eyes no longer flashing green, but staying green and glowing brightly, a sort of emerald smoke wafting around him. "It only becomes active when things not of this world are around, things that most folks can't imagine exist, let alone see."
James followed behind the three, right behind Annalee. "W-What are you talking about? 'Things not of this world?' Is this part of your paranormal act? What's with the smoke; I can't smell it—will it leave stains?"
"You're gonna see soon enough that it's no act, Mr. Lawton," Annalee warned him. She grabbed the radio from her belt and keyed in the mic. "Central from 225, I'm at 3rd Street for the HellHound call."
As dispatch acknowledged, James asked meekly, "What's HellHound?"
"HellHound Parapsychological and Paranormal Investigations, LLC," Garret explained. "I'm in the yellow pages."
James was fresh out of attitude, and when Annalee looked back at him, she saw he had paled with fear. He quickly tossed the last bit of his whiskey into his mouth as they reached the end of the back hall, where an open door decorated with a cartoon princess from TV was open just enough to see the pink walls inside. Amanda raised a hand to halt the rest, then creeped up to the door and peeked her head inside. They saw her visible begin to tremble, then softly, she said: "H-Honey? The police are here to help you…can they come in?"
What came next started as a little girl's voice making a whimper, then a metallic vibrating and whining, and then a sound like a tornado, a howling that came with such a force, it shook the walls and made the four of them struggle to keep their balance. The lights flickered, and a shadow seemed to creep down both walls of the hallway, seemingly dripping from the ceiling, and the howling became an ear-splitting low moan, like a great steel ship creaking under its own weight. Amanda dropped to the floor and crawled back. "Oh, god, no!" Garret approached the doorway and Amanda called after him: "Be careful! She's never been like this before!" Annalee followed after Garret, and James grabbed the edge of her coat. "Wait, what're you going to do?"
"We're going to help your daughter, Mr. Lawton!" she told him, shouting over the ongoing moaning. "I promise he won't hurt her, but it's going to be very intense! It should be safe enough for you two to follow us, but please stay in the corner with me!"
Garret pushed the door open and a rush of cold air hit him in the face. He heard Annalee and the Lawtons shuffle in behind him, going to the corner where stuffed animals were piled in a mound. Garret looked around the room, seeing toys and furniture scattered about, some of them broken. A blackness had crawled up the walls, emanating from the trim behind the twin-sized white bed with messy pink covers. A girl with long, greasy blonde hair in dirty princess-themed pajamas sat hunched forward with the covers over her legs, glaring in Garret's direction with glowing green eyes. Amanda Lawton pointed at the girl, whispering to Annalee. "Look! Her eyes are like his! Why?"
"The thing bothering your daughter, it recognizes Mr. Geiger's powers, it sees him as a threat," Annalee explained.
"He needs to make it leave already!" James Lawton demanded in a sharp whisper.
"You can't rush his process, its very complex and precise!" Annalee assured him. "He has to use a variety of methods to coax the creature from your daughter!"
Garret glared at the thing inside the little girl. "Hey. You in there. What do you think you're doing with Willa Mae Lawton?"
"Wretched bastard, damned soul!" Willa snarled. "You dare call me out?"
Garret snickered, cracking his knuckles. His eyes flashed a brighter green and a loud boom caused a powerful wind to rush throughout the room. "You're a low demon, aren't you? A rahd-karbad of Olin-Dar, I believe. What do you call yourself, imp?"
The creature cowered within the little girl, its snarl weak as it replied. "Vissul. Vissul al Rahd. Why have you come, seraphim?"
"You're not wanted here," Garret seethed. He raised his right hand, and it glowed with that same green light until it became translucent. Then he drove the hand into Willa's chest and the demon cried out.
"What are you doing?!" James demanded. "Don't hurt her!"
Willa screamed. "Mommy! Daddy! What's happening?!"
"It's okay, honey!" Amanda called over the force of the demon's snarl. "The police are trying to help you!"
Willa looked up at Garret. "He's not a cop, mommy!"
Garret pulled back, and out of Willa's chest came the specter of a massive four-legged creature the length and build of a lion, but seemingly built of bone and steel components. It crashed onto the floor, scattering toys and became solid, snarling as it got to its feet, glancing around the room at the humans. Amanda whimpered and Vissul turned to her and lunged. Garret was on its back all of a sudden and brought down a fist against the back of its skull. The beast collapsed, and he flipped it onto its back with one hand. Mounting the beast, Garret rolled up his sleeves and begin driving punch after punch into its face until its snarls became whimpers and its whimpers faded. Chunks of bone and steel scattered across the floor, hissing as they dissolved into a thin grey smoke in the air. When Garret stopped hitting the caved-in skull, he sat back on the dissolving carcass, panting. He looked up at little Willa, who wiped a bit of sweat from her forehead, but managed to smile at him. "Thank you, mister. I know you're not a cop."
Amanda and James ran to her bed and took the little girl in their arms between them, holding her tightly and kissing her forehead. Garret stood up and Annalee approached him, looking him over for any injury. "Looks like he got desperate at the end, eh?"
He nodded. "Lower demons are given to cowardice and desperation. They all claim to be Satan himself; they know it'll get them attention; get them the fear they crave. They're really all just mean, petty babies."
Amanda looked down at Willa. "Now, honey, what did you mean when you said Mr. Geiger isn't a cop? How did you know that?"
Willa looked at Garret fondly. "When the monster looked at him, I could see what he sees. Mr. Geiger isn't a cop, he's an angel!"
James looked up at Annalee and Garret. "What can we ever do to repay you?"
"Start by not being a prick to people whose job it is to help you, Mr. Lawton," Garret said, provoking a horrified glance from Annalee. "Secondly, pay your taxes and contribute to the Los Restos Public Safety Relief Fund. Your local cops, firemen, and EMTs thank you!"
He turned and left without another word, leaving Annalee to sit down by the Lawtons on the edge of Willa's bed, her face her from embarrassment. "I'm sorry, he's…still dealing with issues of his own. Do you have any questions I can answer?"
James nodded, still a little shaken but overjoyed at the return of his daughter. "Yes. What is Mr. Geiger?"
"He's a private investigator," Annalee said briefly. "I'm afraid I can't say much more than that. Any further information will have to be obtained from our federal constituents, who should be along momentarily."
"What was that thing?" Amanda asked.
"A lesser demon. It simply exhausts those it possesses. We've been informed that we should recommend that you treat Willa as if she's recovering from the flu; give her plenty of fluids, keep her warm and make sure she gets plenty of rest. Don't worry about the demon's body; it'll finish dissolving in a few minutes and it shouldn't have any lasting effects on your carpet. Now, as I said, the federal officials will be able to provide you with any further information." She keyed her mic. "Central from 225, we're clear of the HellHound call. You can send in Triton."
"10-4. Show you clear, calling for Triton."
She touched Willa's shoulder and smiled at the Lawtons. "Good luck." Then, she stood up and left the little family home, meeting Garret on the porch and watching a black late-model Ford Explorer pull up, with several of the Darkly Dressed piling out and granting the two of them a brief nod as they hurried through the gate and into the house. Annalee sighed and looked at Garret, who was rolling his sleeves back down. "Thank you, Garret, as usual. Despite your last comment, you really did well for the Lawtons."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Well, that's my job, isn't it? I help people." Even in the monotone she was accustomed to hearing him speak in, he still managed to sound cheerful.
She smiled and they started walking to her car. "I know you didn't tell me everything. I'm sure there's a lot you don't feel like you can tell anyone, ever. But as far as you not having a soul, there are just some times I can't believe that. I'm not sure who you were before, Garret, but I'm convinced there's still a part of that good caring man I've heard so much about."
He scoffed as they got into the car. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Detective. Who knows, maybe you'll get a chance to meet him!" He wiped a bit of demon gore from his cheek and turned to smirk at her. "Stranger things have happened, right?"