Person, Place or Thing
The creature moved quickly making no sound as it closed on him. A glint of beastly features reflected back at him from atop the surface of the pond. Moe whirled, sending fish food pellets strafing across the marble bench of the fountain plinking into the water. The oversized goldfish erupted to the top engulfing the food as fast as it entered the water, the sudden frenzy expelling the bog odor of swamp grass up through the lily pads. For a thin moment, Moe and the creature locked eyes. Then it fled.
For a thin moment, Moe and the creature locked eyes.
Then it fled.
"You're positive," Remhart asked, "You actually saw the face?"
"I did," Moe answered, hoping his tone sounded convincing.
Remhart eyed him. To Moe, the detective seemed skeptical. These days his entire story must come forth if even a part was to be given credence. "I sensed a presence and when I looked down at the fish it was there, watching me."
"The fish?" Remhart asked.
"The Koi," he responded. "In the fountain, at -," he broke off mid-sentence. His throat tightened and he grabbed the rim of Remhart's desk for support. He knew what was coming, another coughing fit. He held firm to the desk and prepared.
Remhart rose from his chair. He knew as well, "You need some water?"
Yes, he started to say, but managed only the "Ye," before his throat seized entirely. Remhart swept by him as he shut his eyes. With concentration, he could sometimes resist these attacks. He sucked in a breath and it felt like a frayed rope being yanked down the back of his windpipe. He released what little air found its way down back out, and it burned upward even worse. He was losing. The hacking would begin any moment.
Someone tapped his shoulder and Moe turned, opening his eyes. Remhart stood beside him holding forth the promised water. He took it, palmed the paper cup in both hands, and drank greedily. Immediately the fire in his throat began to cool, but still, it hurt. Remhart offered him another cup. He traded the empty for the full and drained the second with the same haste.
"Help?" Remhart asked.
Moe nodded, finishing the water, the burning dissipating with a last gulp. The onset of his coughing, for now, had been averted. He covered his mouth to clear his throat and winced. The pain had not completely subsided. Remhart shifted his weight beside him, waiting patiently.
Inhaling as deep as he could, wiping his eyes, which had teared up from the strain, Moe decided he was able to speak well enough to continue.
He began again, slowly just in case, "I had just fed the Koi," he started, his throat indeed still a bit raw, but much better, "…and I was sitting on the bench that circles the fountain watching them eat the pellets, and there it was in the -"
Remhart looked at him saying nothing in return. After a moment, the detective's brows raised. "In the what?" he asked.
"In the what? Moe repeated the detective's question.
"You said, 'It was there,' he paused, casting his fingers as if tossing Moe the next words, 'in the…', "Remhart trailed off waiting.
"It was watching me," Moe explained. "It startled me. I dropped the bag of pellets."
Remhart frowned puzzlement now a part of his expression.
Frustrated, Moe added, "I looked in the fountain and could -"
Remhart stared back, expectant it seemed, for more.
"Could what?" Remhart asked.
Moe stared back, confused.
Remhart held up a hand, "Take your time Moe; finish your sentences."
Moe considered this, and it dawned on him what he had done. He had forgotten his words again.
Remhart turned his hand over and held it up, "Let me have the cup."
Moe nodded, and let the cup roll into Remhart's palm. Without realizing, he had crumpled it up into a ball while he had strained to contain his cough.
Remhart took it and tossed it into the garbage can, then scooted around him and slid back behind his desk. "Start over. You saw it in the…". He nodded, "Finish the sentence." He motioned to the side of his head and then pointed at Moe, "Remember your nouns."
Moe hesitated. Remhart returned to his computer screen and began keyboarding without further comment. Had his forgetfulness gotten so bad that others were no longer surprised?
"Person, Place or Thing," Moe said.
"Right," Remhart replied, studying his monitor. Moe watched the detective's eyes scan the screen, his palms pressed together in front of his mouth as if praying, a pencil resting in the crook of his thumbs like a twig caught in the rails of a fence. The detective's hands slid back and forth, the pencil see-sawing between them as if oscillating in a wind.
Around the room, doors opened and closed, phones were stopped from ringing, notebooks, papers, gadgets of different sorts, passed from person to person behind Remhart as police officers and others hustled about their duties. Under the fluorescents, metal glinted off uniforms and computer monitors flickered atop desktops. Moe turned at the sound of a strange harsh laugh, seeing two men in gray suits like Remhart's discussing something funny in the corner near the coffee station.
"Why don't you sit down and tell me about it." Moe turned back. Remhart motioned toward the chair beside his desk, "Start over, and just try remembering to finish your sentences."
"With nouns," Moe stated.
Remhart typed on.
Moe paused, concentrating to not let embarrassment creep into his expression. He pulled the chair out as Remhart had suggested and gently sank himself down onto the cushion.
The detective picked a slice of cheese from a plate on his desktop and placed it between his lips, holding it there while he studied his monitor. He shook his head, "I see nothing has come over the wire about…" He placed his forearm prone in front of his keyboard, leaning in toward the screen. "Um, sightings of a sort," he finished. He sucked in the cheese and proceeded to chew.
Moe folded his arms.
"Okay. From the beginning. You saw it in the…what?" Remhart prompted.
Was that where I left off? Moe thought.
He began again slower, thoughtful of what he would say, "Well. So I was sitting on the fountain…bench at the…," he paused to consider, "…at the park watching the children ride the..." Hesitating, he pondered how to end this sentence. With a noun, he thought. "Merry-go-round," he finished, concentrating on each syllable as it left his mouth.
Remhart glanced up at him from his monitor, his look indicating he was all right so far. Moe nodded to himself satisfied and continued, "I saw it in the...water," he said. He made sure to emphasize the last noun. He waited. Remhart still paid more attention to his work. He shook his head, "The children were laughing, and I suddenly felt something behind me. When I turned, it was there watching me. When it saw me, it took off. But I caught its eye." Then he added, "I thought it was Charley."
Remhart's typing stopped. The man's eyes lifted, staring at him over the top of his computer. Moe considered this response. He did not want to let Remhart know how difficult it had become for him to remember even the smallest of details. On top of his cough and memory lapses, he was now forgetting how to construct his sentences.
"What makes you say that?" the detective asked him.
Lately, there seemed some sort of unease in the man's gaze when their eyes met. He considered his response carefully, trying to connect the jumbled images in his mind. "I'm…trying to remember. Charley watches me sometimes like that. But he doesn't say anything anymore when I talk to him."
"When has Charley watched you, Moe?"
Remhart stared at him. The question seemed important. He considered, thinking hard for a good honest answer. Charley was his closest friend. Charley had a disheveled face, with lots of sharp turns and angles. Nothing symmetrical about it. But the creature that met his gaze at the park had a symmetry devoid of any type of geometry. The face was round and meaty, dark and penetrating. Charley watched him with eyes of kindness. The creature glared at him with eyes lit by a fire of malevolence,
"Moe. Charley died. You remember that? Right?"
"Yes Moe." Remhart broke eye contact as he spoke, "You were at his side."
In Moe's thoughts, a distant image materialized: a recollection like a fresh, colorful dream on the verge of sliding away as he woke to morning. He saw Charley's face, breathing hard, and then barely at all. Charley was in pain. Agony distorted his expression, his eyes glinting an inhuman shine. He stared at Moe until the light faded to nothing at all. "Charley couldn't take the air anymore." He studied Remhart's face. The detective's eyes were blank and unreadable. "He had a cough like I have."
"Why did you think it was Charley at the fountain?" Remhart persisted.
Moe thought about this, and explained out loud, "I was feeding the fish, letting them eat out of my hand, and a face appeared."
"In the water. You said that already," Remhart replied.
"Yes," Moe answered. "I saw it's reflection mirrored in the water. I turned around and -"
"Was it there?"
"No. It was gone."
Remhart stared. For a long moment, he said nothing. He pulled his hands from the keys and tee-peed them over the keypad.
"Moe, no one got hurt did they?"
For some reason, the question was not a surprise but it still seemed a strange thing to ask. "Like the ones before?"
Remhart's hands lowered to the desktop, "Like the ones before," he confirmed. Moe noticed his eyes shift away again, but this time as if afraid someone would hear.
Another memory came to him. Into his thoughts entered an image of darkness lit only by streetlights, a struggle, hands ripping apart… "Tents," said Moe.
"What's that," Remhart asked. "What do you remember?"
"Charley is a friend." Moe glanced away from Remhart's stare, "He was a friend." Moe saw movement at the periphery of his vision, realizing his mind was still recalling the memory.
Like the ones before. Moe needed no prompting for that memory to return. Snatched right out of their shoes. Clothes they had worn left where they had fallen, ripped and torn, with blood still pooling nearby, but no bodies, anywhere, ever.
"The tents were in an alleyway. Those men were only sleeping... inside... shelters. Out of the cold. Why would Charley hurt them?"
"Moe," Remhart said.
"I think at the park it came for me."
"Moe," Remhart repeated.
"Charley did not hurt anyone. That creature in the park did." He glanced back down at the detective. "It would hurt me if it could. It would hurt Charley too."
"Moe, listen to me. Charley died of natural causes. You were at his side,"
"No," Moe said. "Charley was taken. Something took him. Someone."
Remhart regarded him quietly for a moment. Moe watched, studied the maze of activity at the other desks until Remhart finally broke the silence. "Moe, can I see your pack?"
For a moment, Moe wondered what he meant, and then he remembered the small canvas backpack he carried into the station with him. He slid it off his shoulders and held it out across the desk. Remhart took it without comment, grimacing as he peeked inside, shuffling through the contents. Moe lifted his chin hoping to catch a glimpse but unable to see what the detective was looking to find. "All your meds in here?" he asked.
"Yes," Moe responded, though he was unsure if it was true.
"Can I see your arm?"
This confused Moe even more, but he trusted the detective and reached out with his left arm until Remhart took hold of his wrist. The man's grip was strong. Remhart twisted his arm over gently, facing his knuckles downward, and seemed to be searching for something near the inside of his elbow.
"Miss Tilden give you your injection this morning?"
Is he asking me? Moe thought, Or telling me? Sensing the awkward tone to Remhart's voice, Moe shook his head trying to give the impression he had not noticed. But Remhart did not wait for a response and, letting go of his arm, handed back the pack.
"What do I do with this?" he asked, taking it back.
"Why don't you hang onto it," Remhart said. "You don't want to be giving that away."
Moe took the pack as Remhart pulled out his desk drawer and reached a hand inside. Moe knew he was sorting out some change. "Here," Remhart said, "Get yourself a pop and stick around, while I check into this."
"Cherry Coke," Moe replied.
Remhart gave him a quick smile, "I need to call Miss Tilden. You stay here in the station until I'm done. We'll walk back to the Beltway together. You'll be back in time for supper. He turned away to answer the phone that began ringing on his desk. Moe hesitated, watching Remhart as the man spoke in a muffled voice to the person at the other end, then stood, shouldered his pack, and stepped away from the desk.
"Moe," Remhart called. He looked back. The detective had a hand over the receiver. "Don't forget your nouns."
"An action word," Moe said.
"No. Person, Place or Thing."
Moe nodded. Remhart returned to his phone call, writing as he spoke.
Moe felt the coins creasing the fleshy corners of his palm and eased up on his grip. Remhart told him to stay there. He did not mind. In fact, he enjoyed coming down to the station. It was much livelier than the tedium of The Beltway, as Remhart referred to it. To others, it was The Beltway Independent Living Facility officially, or unofficially. Here at the station, it was warm, much warmer than his room there. In his room, he was always cold, even in the summertime.
Besides, he liked watching people.
He took a contemplative breath, with one more look at his friend, and then headed out into the lobby. At the soda machine, he dropped his quarters into the coin slot and punched the display button for Cherry Coke. The can dropped with a clunk, and he took it, popped the tab and held it up to his ear, listening to the crackle of the fizz, and then sat down next to the front desk on the padded, black vinyl bench against the wall. A heating duct in the ceiling above spilled a stream of warm air. Under the duct, he could sit for hours.
He watched the night stragglers roam in and out the glass doors opening onto the front lobby. Once in a while, someone would come in bleeding, or trying to throw punches at the officers dragging them through; even with their hands secured behind them. When they failed at this attack, they resorted to spitting, and some even tried to bite. But tonight was quiet. Tonight people were just sort of wandering, not much swearing that he could hear. More laughing than usual, which was good for a change. People fascinated him. Watching them was something he enjoyed. Sometimes, after lunch, he liked to wash up and stroll over to the Mall, find a bench inside under the skylights, and pass time, sipping a drink from the Orange Julius, and study all the men, women and children who came in to do their shopping. People acted differently in the mall than they did on the street. Their eyes were brighter, their emotions more relaxed, their behavior more civil.
"Hey there Moe."
He looked up. The face of the officer was familiar, but he could not place her name. He nodded anyway and waved.
"How's that cough of yours?"
He held up his drink, "Detective Remhart gave me money for a Cherry Coke. It helps."
The officer smiled, "Good to hear." Then she headed down the hallway.
He watched her go, swaggering smoothly with each step. She walked like Miss Tilden. Detective Remhart watched Miss Tilden when she walked and he could understand why. There was beauty in her movements. As the officer turned a corner and vanished, a flash of memory passed through his mind. He was talking to Charley about this very thing.
At times they move with quite a lot of grace, and their words often hold very deep insights.
He and Charley had watched these people, studied them, were amazed by them. The memory drifted through his mind like a ghost in front of his eyes, then like so many other memories lately, like a ghost drifted away.
His throat tickled. His breath seemed to fade.
Quickly he took a swallow of his drink. It burned a little on its way down, but the tickle vanished.
Clearing his throat, his breath returned. He heard the doors swing open and when he looked around several officers entered tugging a few street people by the arms. The doors did not shut completely as other officers went back out. Probably it was time to leave. He should get back to the Beltway before Miss Tilden missed him. No one ever seemed to mind when he was around, but he never liked to overstay his welcome. Rising from the bench, hearing his joints complain, like the crackle of gravel under heavy boots, he crossed to the doors. Outside he sipped the last of his Cherry Coke and then placed the empty can just to the side of the entrance against the brick wall. He knew there were those who could use it to collect coins.
Remhart kept asking if he remembered. He and Charley had known Remhart for a long time, since he was a boy. Then quite suddenly Billy Remhart grew into a man and became Officer William Remhart, and now Detective. His friend knew many things that he and Charley had asked him to keep secret, and the boy, who was now a man had never told a soul. Now, it was his turn to ask Moe to keep secrets. But, Moe could hardly remember what they were anyway. So it was easy for him. Many times they had lied. Many times lying was the only truth they believed, an ironic twist bestowed upon those with whom he chose to blend. Remhart had once asked them many questions. Now he answered theirs.
But Charley wasn't around anymore. Something had come for him, the same way it was now coming for Moe. He thought this but did not understand what it meant. He knew the thing he saw in the park had something to do with all of this. Charley thought he had been watched. And now Moe was being watched.
Moe lifted his hand to scratch his nose and the pack rustled in his grip. He almost forgot he had it. Holding it up, one hand on each strap in front of him, he looked inside. Remhart never liked looking inside. He said it was too dangerous for him. Moe closed the flap thinking on that a bit. His head was full of impressions, colors that took the place of events and images he could not remember, some green and blue and soothing, but others black and red and violent. When he tried to form a picture in his mind, he just saw the colors.
Charley was gone. Taken?
The street was a quiet one, squeezed in between the busier routes. He started walking.
He ambled over a manhole. Steam rose from the encircling gap, capturing the glow from the lights cast from inside the shops lining the curbside, conducting the luminous vapor upward as it rose into the darkness. He paused to watch, his vision keeping pace, craning his neck as it floated higher into the night until finally, it dissipated. And beyond this rising mist were stars. He lowered the pack letting it drop to his side, as he stared upward. He took a breath, deep as he could and lowered his gaze. In front of him, the same glow that rose into the night also fell onto the sidewalk, making it sparkle as if the stars had tumbled into the cracks. He knelt down to look and see what the sparkles were.
"Hey old man, wha'cha got in the pack?"
Not looking up, Moe thought, A Noun. A person, place or thing was behind him. He turned without rising but no one was there. He felt a nudge on his thigh, almost at his rear.
"Over here you old wino," the voice said.
Moe turned the other way. There he was. There they were. Two of them, street boys. He had seen them before. Not these particular two but boys like them, around the park and hanging out under the freeway bridge where the basketball courts were, always up late when most of the families had gone home. Often they approached him when he sat on the bench nearby, saying things to him, and flicking gestures at him, neither of which he ever quite understood, but by their gnarled expressions assumed were meant unkind.
Moe knelt there puzzled. Why did they want to look in his pack? Didn't they know it was dangerous? Instead of asking, he said, "I'm not old."
He started to get up, but the boy in front of him put a hand to his shoulder. It was heavy with force. "No, no. You have a seat."
Moe found he could not muster enough power to counter the boy's strength and had to yield. Sitting back he looked up at the boy's face. It was pink and smooth, and unlike his own, without a crease to be seen. He peeked around the boy to see his companion. Another pink face, with baggy pants, big coat hanging to his knees, cigarette dangling from his dark lips, a thin trail of smoke spiraling upward.
"This is mine," Moe said to the boys, holding the pack away.
"I didn't ask whose it was. I asked what was in it," the boy said.
"This is my -," Moe added.
The one in front of him seemed to wait for more. "Your what?" he jeered.
"Noun," Moe whispered to himself. "Medicine," he said out loud.
The one in front smirked and looked toward his friend, a crooked smile expanding across his face. In the glow from the store, he now appeared more orange than pink, his expression like a crazed face carved in a pumpkin.
"Come on Deek, let's go."
Deek paid no attention. "We'll just have a see about this," in his voice a note of threat, in his eyes a glint of menace. The boy, Deek, kept looking at Moe, did not acknowledge the other, just kept staring at him.
"It's too early for this crap."
"But, I want it," Deek said.
Moe was thinking there was an important reason he should not give the pack away. Remhart had told him to hang onto it, You don't want to be giving that away.
"You paying attention old man? You ignoring me?"
Moe looked up. Why did he call him old? He heard the other boy yell. "Deek, no."
* * *
When Moe woke, he heard Remhart's voice, "Who took your pack Moe?"
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. When they did, he saw the detective knelt down beside him. He looked tired. He had on his suit slacks, but now wore his jean jacket instead of the sports coat he had worn earlier, and the pair looked strange together.
"The boys took it," Moe answered.
He started to rise. A jab of pain shot through his forehead. His lungs felt like they were shrinking.
"Moe you have a cut on your head, better not stand yet."
"He going to be okay detective?"
Moe felt something hard and his spine seemed chilled. Looking around, he realized he was sitting up against the wall of one of the storefronts along the avenue. He took in a breath, and it felt like a bubble in his mouth that he could not swallow. He looked around Remhart and saw the officer who had greeted him at the station when he had his Cherry Coke. "I'm all right," he answered for the detective.
"That cut looks nasty Rem, and he's not breathin' so good. Maybe I should call the squad?"
"No. He doesn't like hospitals. Believe me, it will be fine."
"Sorry I let him out of my sight; I just went down the hall for a moment."
"It's fine. I know. Thanks for your help."
"Always," the officer replied, then gave Moe a wink and headed back to the station. He watched her smooth gate and smiled.
"She's pretty," he said.
When he shifted his eyes back, he caught Remhart studying his face. He nodded but had no smile of his own. Sometimes it was hard to tell when he was in a good mood these days.
"These boys that took your bag, do you have any idea where they went?"
Moe shifted his eyes again and panned the street. "I don't remember walking this far."
Remhart sighed, "Why didn't you resist? You have to defend yourself."
"I heal," Moe said.
"Not like you used to."
Remhart was eying him. Ever since this man was a boy he had always smiled when their eyes connected. But right now he looked very sad.
"I think they were from the park," Moe said. "We have to get my bag, don't we?"
"Yes," Remhart responded, "Let's go find it before those boys get into trouble."
Remhart helped Moe to his feet. He looked around trying to figure out where he was. He remembered walking up the street when -.
"I thought I saw jewels in the sidewalk. They looked like stars," he said.
Remhart steadied him by the shoulder allowing him to catch his balance, "What's that?" he said.
"The sidewalk looked like stars," Moe repeated. "And they called me an old man. Am I an old -?"
"Finish your sentence Moe."
"Man," he said. They started walking, Remhart every now and then surveying an alleyway or looking up a fire escape. "Charley wasn't old. I didn't think Charlie was old. You know, I think he knew the medicine was not helping anymore."
Remhart stopped and looked at him with that downcast, gloomy expression that had become so familiar. "Charley died natural," he said without emotion.
Moe shook his head, "Couldn't compensate for the atmosphere anymore could he?"
Remhart frowned, and then continued walking.
He pondered what he said as he followed behind the detective. He looked up, past the high rises ahead into the nighttime sky above. "They look like jewels."
Remhart halted. Moe almost bumped into him.
"There's the park," he said.
Moe peered over the shoulder of his friend. The night had edged down spilling over the dusty glow of the street lamps. In the distance, he could hear the swings clinking against the poles as a slight breeze drifted over the playground. The slide glistened under the park lights and seemed very cold as if the steel had frozen into a sheet of ice.
This seemed very familiar to Moe, and he started pointing before he knew why, "Over there."
Remhart followed with his gaze. "See something?" he asked.
"That's where I caught it watching me."
He glanced at the detective. Remhart stared ahead. There was the merry-go-round as still as stone, with the furrow in the grass, encircling the metal platform like a ring, where the children ran alongside, kicking up dirt, pushing and tugging, until getting it to whirl at breakneck speed before hopping on. He remembered them screaming with laughter.
Right now though, all was quiet, and except for stray flutters of debris caught in errant breezes, very still.
"The children were laughing," he said.
"Is that the fountain?"
Moe looked where Remhart motioned. He saw the small waterfall gurgling quietly under a statue of the man holding a rifle at his side, standing in the center of the tiny pond, encased inside an encircling bench.
He remembered, "Yeah. It watched me feed the Koi. I saw it in the water." He thought of something else. "Why didn't the children see it?"
Remhart was watching him again.
"The shrubs are so far away. It must have run. So quick to hide so fast." He shrugged to himself, thinking. He started forward to investigate. A hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Moe, there's no one here. Let's look over by the courts."
"Okay," Moe agreed, "But, maybe it's still around?"
"I don't think so."
Moe felt himself grimace. Maybe. But maybe not, he thought.
Remhart was already several paces ahead and he hurried to catch up. To the north, just past a stand of swaying dogwoods were the basketball courts. Soon he could hear the click-clack of the cars on the freeway bridge overhead as the two of them strode underneath, down a grassy slope, and up behind one of the basketball poles. Directly across from them were the bathrooms.
Without a sign that it bothered him Remhart started forward toward the square building, its green doors rusted and bent, a stream of water issuing out onto the sidewalk, draining from some leak from within, emerging like drool from the jaws of some unseen beast waiting to be fed. Moe saw Remhart's hand disappear into his jacket, and come away with a handgun. He followed behind him not knowing what else to do.
Remhart walked slowly across the cold concrete of the basketball court, under the opposite basket, and up to the first door, the Men's room, which was closed but dented at the jamb so badly it no longer shut entirely. Moe followed, searching the grounds for signs of life. He saw no movement, and except for the swaying, clinking chains of the swings in the distance and the intermittent cars click-clacking overhead, heard no sound. "They called me an old man," Moe said as they stepped up to the doorway.
"Quiet," Remhart cautioned, then whispered, "Don't worry. This place makes us all old."
A cat crossed in front of them and disappeared quickly around the bathrooms. Remhart jumped.
The detective laughed for some reason. "It's an old joke," Remhart responded, as Moe stared, wondering what was so funny. After a moment the man composed himself. Grabbing hold of Moe's forearm, he pulled him to the side of the doorway behind him and moved away from any line of sight from within. Looking neither right nor left, he pulled the door open, his elbow doing the work while holding the gun higher, aimed at the sky. The hinges squeaked. He led Moe through the black maw.
Moe found himself in darkness, unable to see a thing. For a moment there was complete silence. Not even the sound of the freeway cars entered this dark place.
"Oh jeez," Remhart said. Moe's arm dropped out of the man's grip and he sensed Remhart moving forward away from him. The meager light from the street lamps outside began to filter in just enough to bathe the interior in a silhouette. His eyesight adjusted slowly to the dark. There was Remhart stepping cautiously across the bathroom floor. It was wet and smelled of recent urine. He saw the detective kneel. An object lay in the first stall and another form lay under the sinks.
Moe walked up behind the man to see what he had found.
"You need to pick that up Moe. Put it back in the pack."
Moe peered over Remhart's shoulder. He saw the head of one of the boys, the cigarette still dangling from his mouth. His red hair was gone and his scalp looked blue. Moe knelt down beside the body. His gaze wandered toward the sinks. Where he thought he had seen another body, there were sneakers, blue jeans, and the jacket, all belonging to the boy who had taken his pack, but nobody filled the clothes. There were marks across the floor; long streaks like tracks from something heavy that had been dragged.
"Over there," Remhart pointed, seeming very agitated. He looked toward the back of the restrooms and saw a pink bottle of pills open and spilled across the greasy floor.
Scanning further, against the far wall, the drag marks ended. There, under the urinal was the second youth where he had crawled after discarding his clothes. His entire naked body, like the scalp of his friend, was a strange bluish color, as if he had bathed in blue chalk. He too had lost his hair. Moe searched the wet, gray floor and saw tiny strands, red and brown locks, strewn about the shallow, oily puddles. The boy's eyes were wide open, and his mouth was stretched into an open chasm, his arms folded across his drawn up knees. It was obvious he had died in great pain.
"What did they think this shit was?" Remhart rose and kicked one of the syringes and it glided across the floor hardly making a sound. Moe stepped over the legs of the body sticking out from the stall and stared down at the second curled up under the urinal. Something flickered in the corner as he passed the sinks. He looked up but saw nothing. He glanced over at Remhart to see if he too had noticed. The man's expression widened. He raised the gun to his side and leaned his back against the door-less stall.
Moe turned quickly. There it was. It had been out on the playground after all and had stalked them into the bathroom. Except, it was not what Moe had thought it was. It was a reflection in the mirror above the sink well that had caught his eye.
My face, he thought, does not look familiar.
Amber, inhuman eyes, stared back. The eyes watched him from below a bulbous curved forehead and from above a sharp razor-like jawline. A faint memory came to him and without knowing why, he said, "The air didn't kill Charlie, it just made him change." He turned back around to see what Remhart thought of this.
The detective stood across from him, gun raised to his waist. He was not staring at the boys or his reflection. He was looking at Moe's arm. Moe followed his gaze, squinting in the meager light at his own hand. It seemed somehow not to fit onto the wrist as if it were meant for another body. He had seen this hand before. Where? He could not remember.
"Moe you need to take your medicine," Remhart said, pointing at the vile on the floor.
Moe looked into Remhart's eyes, "Did Charley hurt these boys?"
"Take your meds," Remhart repeated, louder.
Moe sensed panic in his friend's response. A strange sort of confusion swept over him; a deeper puzzlement than even his memory lapses had brought on. Remhart looked scared. "They were no help for Charley," Moe answered sullenly, unsure of how he knew, and of what he was really saying. His eyes dropped to the weapon clenched in the fold of Remhart's fingers. "How did he die?"
With the gun, Remhart's hand rose higher, until Moe was staring down the barrel now aimed at him point blank.
"I'm sorry Moe. I had no choice. It's not your fault. You're stranded with nowhere to go."
"Did he feel any pain?"
"Charley died of natural causes Moe. Remember? Now you need to take your medication," Remhart was almost begging.
Moe was still thinking about Charley, and what pain he may have had before he passed away, as he knelt down and picked up a fallen syringe. He remembered kneeling at his side, and Charley apologizing for the pain. That did not make sense. A bottle lay next to the spilled tablets and Moe filled the syringe without much thought. "The ones before were hurt bad," he said, then thinking he meant to say Charley was hurt bad, then not knowing what he meant.
"They were old," Remhart said. "No one misses them. They're at peace."
As Moe listened, staring down the barrel of Remhart's gun he injected the liquid into his swollen arm. Immediately the redness subsided and the swelling went away. Except for a small patch of red pimples near his wrist, his hand returned to normal.
Remhart's face relaxed and he lowered the revolver holstering it inside his jacket. He knelt down and started scooping up the tablets and plunking them into the pink bottle. "Here," he said, holding out his hand, two of the tablets in his palm.
Moe took them, and again without much thought, as if familiar with the routine, swallowed them down dry. Their effect, like the liquid, was immediate. He took in a deep breath with only a slight twinge of a burn.
"Put the rest in your pack and let's get out of here." Remhart helped Moe shove the medicine into the pockets of the backpack and then zipper them closed. He then steadied him while Moe fit the straps over his shoulders.
Moe looked passed Remhart, "What happened to them?"
Remhart paused, in his eyes was a look of exhaustion, and maybe a hint of sorrow. It troubled Moe. His friend did not smile as much as he used to.
"They overdosed on drugs. The ambulance is on its way. I'm sorry you had to see that."
Moe followed the detective out the door. He was trying to remember if he had fed the fish today. His memory was vague, but no different than his other memories lately. "Why do I keep forgetting?"
"It happens," is all Remhart said back. Then, as an afterthought, "You should defend yourself."
Moe stepped out into the night, looking up, searching for the jewels in the sky.
"We did not come here to fight."
"Yeah, well you should humor us," Remhart said. "Just humor us."