D Is For Damien: Chapter 1
A Phone Call
IT WAS THE last day of August in Cheboygan, Michigan. The heat was pouring in ripples from the hoods of cars, spilling out in pools on the highway of M-33, leading south into the country. It was only morning but already the air was growing hotter. Near a field, from inside a ramshackle treehouse a young face peered, eyes squinting like Clint Eastwood, hands reaching up and grasping a plastic squirtgun.
The face behind the gun made shooting noises; "Pssheeooo! Pssheeooo! Take that, you snotnosed scumbags." Seven-year-old Harvey jumped up from behind the wooden treehouse doors and aimed his gun at a nearby tree. "Pssheeooo! Ha! Got 'em!" He grinned wickedly and ducked inside again, a volley of imaginary bullets whizzing over his head.
School was going to be starting soon; that was one thought that kept running obsessively through Harvey's mind, that he wished would go away. The other thought, the one that bothered him more, was about his adoptive uncle.
He stopped thinking for a minute to jump up and take a shot at a passing bird--"Pssheeooo!"--and then duck down again. His uncle, Damien, had left earlier that morning to go somewhere--the church, if the phone call he'd received was correct. Harvey and everybody else who lived in his house had been eating breakfast when the telephone rang; Harvey's adoptive mother, Sandy, had left the room to answer it. She'd come back, holding out the phone to Damien, saying it was for him, and concerned a "problem at church." That had gotten a look from Harvey and his eight-year-old sister Esmeralda; while Damien left the room they glanced at each other knowingly, then continued eating. The church was where Damien's uncle, a priest (he was also named Damien), worked. Did the problem involve him?
Of course this, and the warming weather, had distracted Harvey and Ez; they'd asked to leave, only to be reprimanded and told to finish their breakfast. Damien had returned a few minutes later and sat down, noticeably agitated, picking at his food until it was time to clean up. Sandy chided Harvey and Ez for not finishing their food; they weren't upset by that, however, as Damien hadn't finished either. That in itself was unusual. They'd sat silent as Sandy took the dishes away without even chiding Damien. Instead of running off to play, however, they stayed behind a little to hear what was going on; Damien excused himself, saying something about meeting with somebody somewhere, and left, walking right past them without noticing. For several minutes Harvey and Ez crouched against the wall, listening as his car pulled out and drove away. When Ez finally got up the courage to ask Sandy what was going on, Sandy had said, "Oh, don't bother yourself with that. Go on out and play, and if you get too hot, remember to come inside and get something cold to drink. Chernobyl's coming by later today to keep an eye on you, so you'd better be good or we'll hear from him. Now go on and have fun."
Harvey and Ez had shrugged, then run off their separate ways.
Harvey had been at the treehouse since then; it had been about an hour. He didn't know where Ez was. She was probably picking flowers or something. He laughed at that, and pretended to shoot a bad guy coming up the ladder. The treehouse wasn't "boys only," and it was rightfully half Ez's, so it wasn't like he was guarding it from her, even though squirting her would be fun. However, he was alone right now. Shooting at birds and trees and air just didn't seem like very much fun anymore. With a sigh, he dropped out of the tree and grabbed the handlebars of his bicycle, lying in the grass nearby. He pulled himself up on it and rode away from the treehouse, down the dirt road next to it and out to the highway.
It was only a short ride, so he arrived home within a little while. He skidded to a halt in the yard, jumping off and dropping his bike, letting it fall over in the grass. He could just hear Sandy saying, "Park that bike properly! Don't you care about the things we get you?"
"Buzz off!" he said out loud, and the feeling it gave him was so good he laughed.
As he passed by the side of the house, running down the driveway, he could hear noise within; he figured it must be Chernobyl Cat, a friend of Damien's, who'd come to babysit them. Harvey hated that word, babysit. Only his younger siblings, Cynthia, three, and Timothy, two and a half, needed babysitting. He and Ez were big enough to take care of themselves!
He sighed and wished Damien were there; Damien was a great guy to be around, even if he was a little temperamental--especially about his room. He also wondered where everybody else had gone to; Sandy and her husband, Lucifer (he was Damien's brother), had most probably gone out shopping; but where did Kat and the others go? Katrina Witchita was Damien's girlfriend--or ex-girlfriend. Harvey was never really sure just which. He guessed it was right either way, since they broke up and got back together and broke up again so often. They had been fighting again lately--Kat was, as usual, needlessly jealous--and so neither was in a very good mood. Harvey remembered them arguing just last night, right in the living room while he and Ez were supposed to be sleeping. He'd called Ez in to listen to them through the air vent in the floor of his room. The argument was over something silly, and the two had tried to contain their laughter throughout it:
"Shh," Kat had whispered, "I hear a beetle."
"A what?" Damien had asked.
"What do you mean? Paul, or Ringo?"
"No, dang it! A beetle! You know, big, black, creepy things!"
"No no no! There's a distinct difference between beetles and cockroaches, and this is a beetle."
"You should know."
"Well, if there's a beetle, why don't you squash it?"
"I don't know where it is, I can't see through walls!"
"Jeez! They're in the walls?"
"No! Damien, I swear...!"
It had gone on like that for over an hour. Harvey and Ez had just sat on the floor. Snickering all the while.
His thoughts drifted back to the present; Kat was probably off looking for Damien, and then they'd have a big fight, and come home in bad moods, and then Damien would maybe buy her something and they'd make up and get along for another week before their next argument. It didn't really matter to Harvey; Choby was here, and he could get his kicks bugging him. So he dashed around the house and ran up to the porch, ringing the doorbell several times before bounding in, yelling, "HELLO!!" and slamming the door behind him--things Luce and Sandy would never let him do--or Kat, for that matter--but Choby was more lenient. As soon as he got in he fell quiet; he always felt kind of weird yelling at an empty house. Was Choby really there after all? He must be; he'd heard noises from the driveway.
Noises from the direction of Damien's bedroom.
His eyes widened. Damien hated people being in his room! He didn't even like people coming in when they knocked! If Choby was in there, and Damien came home, Choby stood a good chance of getting his face rearranged--friend or no friend.
He crept silently through the kitchen and peered down the hallway. Yep, Damien's door was cracked open--that's where Choby was. He went to the door and pushed it open, entering timidly, as if afraid the floor might be carrying an electric charge. Choby was sitting on Damien's bed, talking into a tape recorder, pretending it was a radio microphone. He saw Harvey and waved him over.
"Chobe, this room is off limits," Harvey warned, frowning. "Dami'd wring your neck if he knew you were in here."
Choby paused the recorder. "But he don't, so he won't," he snickered. "And besides, I'm doin' the news here." He turned back to the tape recorder, pushing PAUSE again. "And now, here's Dick Blickman with the weather. 'Oh, thank you, Choby! The weather in the UP today...'"
Harvey shrugged and went to Damien's dresser at the other side of the room, pulled himself up, and picked up a magazine. He paged through it casually--of course it was a rock 'n' roll magazine, as Damien was a well-known pop-rock singer hiding behind Benton Township's relatively calm scene--and Harvey stopped when he found a picture of Damien in it. He smiled, proud. He really wanted to show it to his friends and tell them that was his uncle, but that would get all the attention Damien so wanted to escape from, and besides, who'd believe him? So he sighed and decided to let it rest. As always.
"And that's the way it is," Choby's voice cut through his thoughts. Before he could turn off the recorder, though, Damien's phone, a miniature red Lamborghini, rang.
Both Choby and Harvey looked at it, startled. Damien had a private line with a private number. So how did he--how could he know that--
The telephone rang again.
Choby reached out and picked it up--carefully, as if it might bite--and said, jokingly, "Hello, this is Chernobyl on the morning show."
Harvey readied himself for the attack--but there was none.
"Oh, hi, Dami," Choby greeted, laughing with some relief. "How's it goin'? Not too good, eh?"
Harvey relaxed but still didn't continue reading, instead setting the magazine aside. He knew that whenever Choby was on the phone he did all sorts of weird things, and waited to hear them. But somehow today was different. Choby related how poor conditions seemed to be as far as Kat was concerned, and Damien must have said something about women making passes at him because Choby exclaimed, "But women always make passes at you, Damien! It comes with the territory!" Then his smile faded, his humor dimmed, and his tone changed as he questioned, "Huh? What? He's where? When?"
Harvey didn't like it. Not one bit. He swung his legs off of the dresser and jumped down, going over to him. "What is it, Chobe? What's wrong?"
Choby waved at him to keep quiet. Harvey responded by sticking out his tongue. "His car's still there?" Choby asked. "How long since he left?" A pause. "That's really weird. He wouldn't just go without sayin' anything, especially to you. Why don't you call the cops, they might help." He suddenly pulled the receiver away from his ear with a wince--Harvey could hear yelling on the other end--then said quickly, "Okay, okay, Dami! Calm down! I won't say a word to no cops. Okay! I won't even mention the cops! Just let me tell you this--Katrina's out looking for you, and she's on the warpath. Better fear for your life," he laughed.
Silence. Choby frowned. "Hello, Damien? Hello? Dami, you still there?" He looked at the receiver, greatly puzzled, and then hung it up.
Harvey could contain himself no longer. "What is it, Chobe?" he asked, stepping from foot to foot.
"It's Father Damien," Choby replied, staring at the phone as if it might ring again. "He's missing. Attended a wedding this morning, never came back. And his car's still there. That's weird."
Harvey frowned and fidgeted. "What did Damien say?"
Choby glanced at Harvey, then back at the phone, and sighed, looking worried. Harvey had no way of knowing how portentous his next words were--or even what portentous meant. "Well, I told him to fear for his life...and he said that he feared for Father Damien's life."