Forced Perspectives – Snippet 38

“If Santiago is still around, they won’t mess with you. They’ll assume you’re connected. And if they say he isn’t around anymore, just — wing it. It’d be a good idea to bring a lot of sandwiches and beer, too, share ’em around. Good sandwiches, not the little triangles in plastic boxes.”

“Out of my five hundred?” Getting no reply, Ragotskie went on, “Meet you there when?”

“I can’t be sure. Be there by sundown, and wait for us.”

“What if this Santiago kid is there? Who is he?”

“Oh hell, tell him you’re both to wait there for us. He’s a sort of freelance courier and watcher.”

“And thief,” added Castine.

“Sometimes. Anyway, he knows us.” Vickery swung the car to a vacant curb space and put it in park. He hiked up to reach into his pocket, and peeled off five hundred dollars bills and passed them to Ragotskie. “Now get out.”

Ragotskie’s eyes were big behind the round lenses. “You’ll be there for sure?”

“Unless we run into trouble.”

Ragotskie opened his door and with visible reluctance stepped out onto the sidewalk. He shuffled backward, looking left and right along the street, and Vickery was puzzled by the certainty that Ragotskie was ready to start running. Was this some elaborate trap?

He clicked the car into gear, looked quickly in the side mirror, and gripped the wheel.

But Ragotskie waved and yelled, “I do know where your book is! Trade! Agnes for the book! Be there!” And then he turned away and was running back the way they’d come. In the side mirror, Vickery saw Ragotskie disappear around the corner of some office building.

He relaxed and waited for a gap in traffic, then swung the car into the right lane.

“You just let him go,” observed Castine.

“Sure. We’ve got to get away from this car, and I don’t want him knowing about our Saturn. At that freeway nest we can sneak up from the shoulder side, make sure he’s alone.”

Castine nodded. “He might try to re-establish himself with Harlowe — or his Agnes! — by turning us over to Harlowe.”

“He doesn’t know which way he’s facing,” agreed Vickery. “He may work with us, but he’s no ally.”

“He mentioned twin girls,” said Castine, “and a boat.”

“And two girls holding hands on a boat seemed to send that old-house vision to us this morning, and ran us off the road. What do you bet it was the same two girls?”

“A lot,” said Castine. “And it connects this Harlowe person’s group with that awful house.”

“Maybe. Probably.” He glanced at the manila envelope on the floor by her feet. “We might as well drive by Harlowe’s office on Sepulveda, once we’re back in the Saturn. We’ve got time before we meet Supergirl.”

“Then dinner, I hope. And not some hot dog stand.”

“I think we’ll be going to the Central Library on Fifth, and Philipe’s is right by there. Great French dip sandwiches.”

“I’m ready for that. Don’t crash us before we get there.”

***

Taitz and Foster had found their way to a Lavanderia, and in the steamy, fluorescent-lit interior, over the noise of the washers and dryers and the Spanish-language chat of the customers, Taitz had got Harlowe on his cell phone. He was holding it in his left hand; his right was wrapped in a now-blood-blotted towel he had bought for five dollars from a woman at one of the dryers. The place was fragrant with laundry detergent and bleach.

“And you’re going to have to report your Tahoe as stolen,” Taitz was saying into the phone. “Vickery shot out both front tires and put a round through the windshield — in addition to shooting my hand. No way Foster and I were going to hang around and talk to cops. No, listen, we’re at some kind of Mexican laundromat at Eighth and Mariposa, you gotta send a car here to take me to an emergency room.” He listened for a few moments, then said, “What? I don’t care, I want real doctors! Yes, Ragotskie led us to both of them, he sure did, and a lot of good it did us. He’s with them now, somehow — they all three drove off together in his car.”

He took a deep breath and let it out shudderingly. “Who is this Vickery guy? He could have killed both of us, but he just‚Ķdisabled us. Oh, and he sicced a ghost on us! Yes! I think it was Pratt, the damn thing froze my window with its tongue, broke the glass. I don’t know, when we cornered Ragotskie and Castine and him, he just conjured the thing out of thin air! It came at us like some kind of mad dog! And then he started shooting!” Taitz listened for a few seconds, then said, “Yes, it did seem to be Pratt. What? It didn’t go anywhere, it just spun around in the air and disappeared!” Taitz moved his injured hand from his chest to his knee. “Shit, this hurts. Get somebody here quick. Oh, another thing — you better move the Black Sheep again, Ragotskie was at that marina last night, according to Foster’s tracking app. I guess he followed Loria.” Taitz barked one strained syllable of a laugh and said, “Yeah, you too.”

He touched the screen with his thumb, then switched the phone off and slid it into the pocket of his windbreaker.

“A ghost did that to your window?” said Foster, wide-eyed. Sweat was running down his bald scalp. “I thought Vickery shot it. Pratt’s ghost? Jesus, I didn’t actually think ghosts were real.”

Taitz leaned back and wiped his sweating face with his right sleeve. “You were no help. After he shot me, he turned around to go to Ragotskie’s car. You had a clear field of fire. You could have –” He hissed as he moved his wounded hand. “You could have got all three of them.”

“He shot the windshield! I couldn’t see out.”

“Shit. You told me — bragged to me! — that last year you killed a guy who tried to steal your winnings, in the parking lot of the Commerce Casino. That’s right by the 5 Freeway, definitely inside the current. But — you didn’t see Pratt’s ghost just now.”

“Oh. Yeah, well — everything happened so fast — and Vickery was in the way –“

“You’ve never killed anybody, and I bet you’ve never even been to that casino.”

“The freeway was closed down that day — yeah, remember, a big semi jacknifed –“

Taitz was about to give a scornful reply, but paused when the woman who had sold him the towel came shuffling to the chairs he and Foster were sitting in.

“For a ghost that follows you,” she said diffidently, “you need to change how you look, to it. You are right-handed? Good, the bandages will make you do everything different from usual. Get shoes that belonged to someone else — “

“Get lost, chiquita,” snapped Foster, but Taitz raised his good hand.

“Shut up,” he said to Foster; and to the woman he said, “Go on.”

“Shoes from a thrift store,” the woman said, “so the ghost won’t know your footsteps. Wear your shirts facing backward. You wear no rings — get a ring, two rings, from the thrift store — the ghost will maybe see only the shadows of who had them before.”

She said nothing more, and after a few seconds Taitz said, “Thank you.”

She nodded, and cocked her head as if to see him better. “You saw it?” It wasn’t really a question.

“Yes.”

“Because of the death of someone?”

Taitz thought of Hannah’s car tumbling over the 101 freeway embankment in 1986.

“Yes.”

“May God have mercy on you.”

Taitz sighed. He and Foster knew, as this woman apparently did too, that people who had committed homicide in the freeway current acquired a certain expanded perspective: the generally unwelcome ability to see ghosts. There were other ways to fall into that ability, but the woman had clearly guessed that murder had been the cause of it in his case; what she had said had clearly been a prayer.

“Thank you,” he said again, quietly.