D Is For Damien: Chapter 8
THE REST OF the day went by, quite uneventful.
It was later that evening when the group finally returned home; Morris had left shortly after they'd arrived at Dairy Queen, after talking with Father Damien, and on the way home they dropped off the kids. Father Damien, never trusting Damien's driving, insisted on driving his station wagon; Damien shrugged and let him take the kids, since the Lamborghini had no room for them all. On the way home he rode alone and talked to the others through the radio in his car, listening to them laughing and singing and making up their own funny raps to tease him in a way since he never rapped, though he did listen to it sometimes.
"My name is Dami, I come from the city," Harvey sang. "Where I come from things ain't always pretty."
"I live in a trash can and I wear stinky clothes, I eat out of gutters and I always pick my nose," Damien said, being careful not to rap it. The kids laughed.
"No, really," Damien joked. "Buckle your safety belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
The cars pulled in and parked and they got out, the kids still chattering and laughing, running to the door to see who could get inside first. Harvey nearly hurt himself ramming into it. He backed away, surprised, and turned to Damien.
"Hey, Dami, the door's locked," he said, looking puzzled.
Damien looked at his uncle. Father Damien leaned toward him and whispered, "I had Detective Morris come over with the cops and clean the place up so no fuss would be made. They must have locked the door behind them."
Damien nodded at this explanation--it was better than having the kids see it--and unlocked the door. Harvey's confusion melted quickly away as he and Ez started betting on who could make it upstairs faster, and they were off.
Damien went in and collapsed on the couch. He felt like sleeping twenty years, just like Rip Van Winkle. He'd never really liked that story much. He looked at the wall, and saw that there were no visible stains, only the hole the knife had left; when he looked up the air vent appeared perfectly normal, as if nothing had ever happened, and he didn't hear Harvey screaming so he figured it must be okay. He told himself he'd have to fix that hole before Sandy found it. "Which cops? Do you know?"
Father Damien shook his head. "I've met a couple of them, but I don't really know their names. It was a red-headed lady and a black man."
"That would be Slatinsky and Brown," Damien said with a yawn and a stretch.
"Glad to hear you've all met. But Jones didn't come along; he's always busy at the front desk, God bless his weary, dejected, hopeless little soul."
Damien snorted. "God bless." After a moment he sat forward, clasping his hands between his knees. "Listen, I think I'm going to go for a ride. Just to think things out. Tell Harvey and Ez I'll be back in a while, okay?"
Father Damien looked at his nephew. He knew he should ask him not to, to stay here and be safe, but he saw the look in Damien's eyes. He knew what he really wanted to do. He sighed and nodded slightly. "Go ahead. I'll tuck them in if you're late."
Damien smiled faintly. "Thanks." He stood up and silently left the room. Father Damien listened until he heard the door close, then an engine start up and soon fade away into the distance. He sighed again, and sat back on the couch, staring at the air vent himself and wondering just what was on Damien's mind this time.
It was late. Nightfall found Damien at the Alverno cemetery, standing alone under the trees, looking down at a headstone. It was merely a plaque, its letters finely engraved with nothing fancy, but to him it was the dearest one there. He had the money now to replace it with a real tombstone, even a monument, but he didn't wish to change it any--that would seem like a violation. Instead he would bring lilies--always lilies--to place upon it, as he had today; that was why he was there so late. He read its words for what seemed to be the hundredth time, and he doubted little that it was.
Born June 6, 1969
Died May 30, 1986
May you always rest in peace
And your soul find eternal bliss
May 30th. Just a week and a day short of her birthday, and his as well. She would be twenty-one now, same as him; they were twins. Had been twins. From what little he remembered of his mother he could recall her saying how alike their eyes were, their remarkable sandy-golden eyes which no one else in the family possessed. It was like a secret they shared together; his mother said that, looking in them, you could always tell they were thinking of something. As for Lilu, he remembered how she would always show up when he'd gotten into some sort of trouble, and help him out, always smiling, always ready to lend a hand or listen when he really needed it, when no one else would. And what had she gotten for it? A stab to the chest and a bed six feet under the earth. It was so unfair. He'd never been angry with her for dying; he was only angry with himself, for not being there when it was she who needed help. Why had he gone alone? Why hadn't she come along? He'd never done so before, because it was so painful, but now he tried to remember...
"Are you sure you'd rather stay here? You really don't want to come?"
"I'm sure, Dami. You just go on ahead. I'll be here waiting when you come back. I'll probably even still be asleep! Don't you worry about me. Just go and get what you need to, and stay out of trouble. I'll be all right."
And so he'd left. And when he'd returned...
Cops. Police everywhere. The bridge partly blocked off, so traffic could only go by one lane at a time. An ambulance with lights flashing. And people crowding down near the railroad bridge. A stretcher, covered in white. And he was running, down the slope to the waterside. Shouts to stop echoed in his ears. A policeman tried to grab his arm but someone else held him back, saying, "That's her brother." The cops then left him alone. Running to that stretcher, running to see what it was, where was Lilu, has anyone seen Lilu, she was here near the tree, has anyone seen my sister?
And then--reaching the stretcher, so white, bending over it and finally seeing the red rose right in the middle--
Not a rose at all. But blood.
And pulling back the sheet.
And staring in horror.
Poor Lilu, poor Lilu, poor Lilu, no heart, no heart, no heart. Poor Lilu with her heart gone, how will she last in the next life without her heart? What's happened to her heart? Where has it gone?
The police pulling him away. His screams echoing in his own ears. The water under the old rusted bridge flowing on silently, silently. The only witness would never speak.
And he wasn't there. He wasn't there when she really needed him. And where was everybody else? Where was everybody else when she needed someone to care for her? There was only him, and of course there had been Luther.
He found himself shocked again. And then--how could he forget? It was how Luther and he had first met. How had he ever forgotten that?...
A boy their age, an abusive father, a mother with a kind heart but a weak will.
A group of three who didn't belong, who could escape it all just by going to their secret place--the old house not too far away from the railroad bridge. Just Lilu, Luther, and himself. The three of them friends, growing up together.
The years going by. Growing older, times and feelings changing, growing apart, more distant.
And Luther still in distress, because now Damien had Lilu and he had no one. A mind confused, haunted; new eyes for Lilu, the only one who could really understand, the only one he'd ever really been able to befriend.
One question. Only one question, plain and simple, please let her say yes, please please please let her say yes.
Shattered. Damien could never tell just how badly. Luther didn't show it much. He never showed anything much. He never had.
But why? Why no? Why not?
She'd told him about it later, after Luther had gone; she was sincerely sorry that she'd had to hurt his feelings so.
"I just can't. It's not the right time. I'm just not ready to, not yet, not now. Wait a while. Just give me some time, and then we can see...."
No time. Not enough. Luther leaving, growing even more distant, only two at the bridge, only a month or so to be together until--until...
Damien shook his head and looked up. The remnants of the memory broke apart and drifted away like strands of fog. A noise from the road had caught his attention. He turned to peer into the growing darkness behind him.
A shadow. And then a voice. "I had the feeling you'd be here."
Damien sighed and turned back to the grave, tracing its contours with his eyes. "You know me even better than I know myself."
The shadow came forward, slowly changing into Father Damien, who stood next to him in front of the grave. "Not knowledge. Only intuition."
Damien felt like giving his trademark snort but just couldn't summon it up. "Whatever it is, it gets you by just fine."
A hand on his shoulder. He didn't even bother turning his head. "Damien, you have to stop blaming yourself for what happened to your sister. That was years ago. You tried to convince her to come. It's not your fault."
The singer only continued staring at the marker. An angry look came over his face, and Father Damien backed away slightly. "I didn't try hard enough. And it was years ago, but I had nightmares for months after, and I still do. You know what I see when I'm asleep?" He looked at his uncle.
The priest said nothing.
Damien turned back again. "Never tell anyone this. I dream, and in my dream I see Lilu at the bridge, and she's calling me, and I go down to see her and when I get there she's all covered in blood and there's a gaping hole in her chest. And she's saying to me, 'Damien, you have to watch out for yourself now, I can't help you anymore. Watch out for them or the same thing will happen to you.' Every night. Every night the same thing."
No reply. Damien continued.
"I try to take her hand, I'm just so confused and I'm asking her, 'Who did this? Who did this to you, Lilu?' But she doesn't answer. She just backs away and says, 'Watch out for them, Damien, or they'll get you too.' And she disappears into the water. Just fades away. And there I am, left standing on the bank, staring out over the river, and I'm screaming, but no sound comes out. Do you know why?"
"It's because I'm drowning. I'm under the water, and I'm trying to swim to the top, but something's holding me down so I can't make it and I can't breathe, and I'm starting to lose it. I try to splash my hands out of the water but it's like there's glass covering it--I can't break through. And then I see Luther looking down at me from the bank."
Father Damien looked at him.
"He's only a boy but he speaks with the words of the Luther I knew much later. He's hurt, and humiliated, and he's blaming me for all that's happened. 'It's all your fault,' he accuses, staring at me with those icy eyes, those haunted eyes which he's always had. 'You weren't there when she needed you, and now she's dead. I couldn't be there because she didn't want me. But you she needed, and you abandoned her. You left her behind.'"
"I never knew," Father Damien said softly.
"And I try to speak to him," Damien continued, "but only bubbles come out. I can't talk. I can't ask him for help. And he won't help me anyway. He only stares at me with those accusing eyes. And then he's gone--and it's you that's talking to me."
"Me?" Father Damien asked with some surprise. "But we only got back together about a year ago."
Damien nodded. "But I remember you from when I was really little. When we left the cult. There you are, looking at me, and you're shaking your head. You're not angry but you sound sad. The way you speak makes you seem like a priest. I guess I always knew somehow that you'd become a priest." The faintest smile, but it was a bitter one. "'She's gone, Damien,' you say. 'You weren't here. She wanted you to be here, Damien. She was thinking of you but it wasn't enough. Your mind was blocked off, so you couldn't hear her. And now she's gone....'"
A heavy stillness fell over the graveyard again. Father Damien stared now at the headstone as well, feeling somehow ashamed though he wasn't certain why. For a while they stood there in silence.
"Is it always like this, Damien?"
"Almost always. Sometimes it's a little different. Sometimes it's not you but my father I see on the bank, accusing me of being gone when I should have been there. Sometimes I just wake up when I see Lilu. But it's almost always the same."
Another pause. Father Damien placed his hand on his nephew's shoulder again. "Would you like me to stay, or...?"
Damien shook his head. "I'll be all right here. You go home and see how the kids are doing. How are they, anyway?"
"Kat came home and said she'd keep an eye on them. She doesn't want to show it but she's worried about you. The kids are, too."
Damien smiled slightly. "I'll be okay. I just need to think things over for a while."
Father Damien nodded. "All right, I'll go now. But don't stay out here alone too long. It's getting late."
Damien nodded this time, and his uncle left him standing at the grave in the dark. A moment later he heard an engine start, and the station wagon pulled away down the road. The thick quietness resumed its hold on the night. Damien stood still for a very long time, staring at the marker. He was so absorbed in his thoughts that it took him several minutes to notice another noise.
He tensed, listening. Had he really heard anything at all? And then--yes! There it was again--a very slight rustle. Where was it coming from? He turned around again, peering into the shadows. There it was--a dim figure standing just within his sight, but just beyond his recognition. He stared at it for a moment, wondering if it was a member of Scorpio. That tense feeling wouldn't leave his neck.
"Hey, who's there?" he called, squinting.
The shadow moved and came toward him. As it approached he could make it out for what it was: a thin, scrawny boy with dark hair and eyes, shabby clothing, and an impish grin. He stopped several yards away, cocking his head and staring back.
Damien was a little put off by this--what was this kid doing out here?--but didn't show it. Instead he knelt down on the grass, trying to look harmless, and called, "What's your name? What are you doing out here alone?"
The boy said nothing but only sat down where he was, right in the middle of the road, still grinning. Damien studied him a bit. He looked a little odd--like he didn't belong there for some reason. Damien frowned, trying to place it. Then a thought struck him. Of course. "Hey, you're one of those Gypsies that's always coming through here, aren't you?"
The boy nodded, still grinning as if he knew some big secret; Damien wasn't sure he didn't.
"Well, what's your name? Can you talk?"
"Write it down for me then," Damien said, noticing now the small slate around the boy's neck. "On your chalkboard."
The Gypsy pulled out a piece of chalk and scrabbled something on the board. At first Damien thought maybe he wouldn't be able to read or write, and was just humoring him. But he held the board up, and it read one word: WOLFGANG.
"Wolfgang," Damien said. "That's a nice name. My name's Damien." He held out his hand, and Wolfgang stretched out his arm to accept it. "Nice to meet you. It's not every day that someone gets to meet a real live Gypsy."
LIKEWISE, Wolfgang wrote on the slate.
Damien brought his legs out from under him--they were starting to get cramped that way--and sat down Indian style like Wolfgang. "What are you doing out here in the dark all by yourself?" he asked conversationally.
Wolfgang wrote back, WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE IN THE DARK ALL BY YOURSELF?
Damien quirked a smile. "I asked you first. You tell me, then I tell you."
Wolfgang shrugged. DO GYPSIES NEED A REASON?
Got him there! He tried not to laugh. "I suppose not. Well, then, as for me, I'm just thinking things over a little. Trying to sort them out."
THAT A RELATIVE? Wolfgang asked, pointing.
Damien looked at the tombstone. "That?"
"Yeah, I guess you could say so."
YOU'RE FEELING BAD.
"Heck, everybody does sometimes."
The boy shook his head vigorously. NO, YOU'RE FEELING REALLY BAD; GUILTY.
"It shows that much, eh?"
IT REALLY SHOWS.
"Hm. Suppose I better get on home, then." Damien stood up and started toward his car, noticing that the Gypsy got up also and tagged along behind him like a stray puppy. He stopped and looked back. "You got someplace to stay?"
A shrug. IN A TRAILER.
Damien frowned, puzzled. "Well, you going back?"
I WANT TO GO WITH YOU.
"Me? Heck, kid, I could be a psychotic ax murderer for all you know!"
YOU'RE NOT; I CAN TELL.
Damien put his hands on his hips. "And just how can you do that?"
Wolfgang didn't write anything down; instead he pointed to his eyes, and smiled.
That puzzled Damien, and unnerved him a little too. What did that mean? Could he see it himself, or was he indicating Damien's eyes? He thought about his mother again, and what she'd said.... "Well, if it suits you, I guess it suits me just fine. Come on, then."
Wolfgang trailed Damien back to his car and they got in. The boy acted coolly but Damien could tell he was impressed by the vehicle, running his hand over the side as they went around to the doors. Once inside he managed a murmur and indicated the radio; Damien put his hand on it and looked at him.
"This old thing? I put this in here about a year ago. So my family and I can keep in touch. We have a pretty hard business."
EASY FOR YOU TO SAY.
Damien laughed and started up the engine. "Well, same for you too. I live out on M-33, not too far from Hackmatack Road. Harvey and Ez--they're my nephew and niece--always call it 'Heart Attack Road.' They ought to be excited to meet you, awake or asleep." He turned to look over his shoulder, backed out into the road, and a moment later they were off.
There was a soft knock. Ez sat up in bed and turned on her bedside lamp, squinting in the soft light which threw her shadow on the wall; it wasn't a threatening shadow, but rather more like a guardian of sorts. She felt like she needed one right now. "Who is it?"
Almost a whisper. "Harvey. Your idiot brother."
Ez swung her legs over the side of the bed. "Come on in. Nothing's ever stopped you before."
The door opened. Harvey stepped in, closing it carefully behind him. He looked at her bedroom accessories without even making fun of them like he usually did. "You sleepin'?"
"Not really. You?"
A shake. "Naw." He came toward her bed, scuffing his feet against the carpeting. "Hey, Ez, don't you think Dami's been actin' a little weird lately?"
"What do you mean by that?" Ez asked.
"Well, I don't know; just weird. He hasn't come home yet, for one thing."
Ez yawned, though in fact she wasn't the least bit tired. "Maybe he's found a party or something somewhere."
Harvey shook his head. "No. Damien's not the type to just blow off to some shindig without sayin' anything about it."
"Right there. Well, maybe he's singing for somebody."
Ez sighed and shrugged. "I don't know. I'm just trying to think up excuses for him being gone so I don't have to worry about him anymore."
Harvey collapsed onto his back on her bed, staring up at the unicorn-print canopy. "It's gotta be this whole Scorpio thing. That got him into a lot of trouble before. Remember that creepy Derrick guy, when he came in here with a gun and scared Kat?" Ez nodded. "Well, whadda these guys want, anyhow?"
"Sandy says they're a cult. I looked that up. It's some kind of group of people who all get together and share their beliefs about something."
"So maybe they believe that they're right, and Damien's the one who's wrong," Ez replied.
"But what's he got that they want?"
"I don't know. But it's got to be something really expensive." Ez fell back also and together they stared at the canopy thoughtfully. "Maybe jewels."
"Come off it," Harvey scoffed. "Dami don't wear jewels, he's a guy for goodness' sake."
"So? Guys wear jewels."
"Okay, so it must be money. There you go. Dami's got a lot of money, and I read that money's the second thing that cults go after."
"What's the first?"
"People, of course. They've got to get their members somewhere, don't they?"
"But if they wanted Dami's money they could easily come and get it. I don't think money's the answer. Dami's still around, so they must be waiting for him to lead them to something. Something even bigger than big bucks."
"What could possibly be any bigger?"
A shrug. "I dunno." He sat up. "But I'll bet FD does." He got up and went to the door.
"Hey, Harvey, we're supposed to be asleep now!" Ez protested, also sitting up. "Kat'll get mad if she finds out we're still up this late."
"Kat's in bed. I checked already. But FD's still up reading or somethin'."
A dirty look.
"Well, you gotta be sure," Harvey said defensively. "Let's just pretend he's in that booth at church so he won't tell anyone we're up. If he can listen to all those people telling all the bad things they've done all day long, then he can listen to us."
"Confession, Harvey, confession."
"Yeah, whatever. Come on before Pops goes to sleep."
Ez sighed, but climbed out of bed and followed him downstairs.
The light was still on and though the TV was off, they could hear the occasional flipping of a page. Harvey and Ez peered over the banister into the living room below. Father Damien sat on the couch, silently reading a book. They pulled their heads back and started to creep down on tiptoe.
"You can come out now," Father Damien called, not even looking up from his book.
Harvey's head shot back over the banister. "Hey, how'd--"
"Believe it or not, I was a kid once too. Come on down before you fall over and break your neck."
The two did as they were told and joined him on the couch. They stared at him until he put the book away and looked back at them. "Well? You're both down here for a reason."
"FD," Harvey said, hugging his knees up to his chest, "we know that somethin's going on with Uncle Damien and Scorpio. But we don't know what it is that they want. What could they possibly want from him? It can't be money, and it can't really be him or they'd have him already like they had you. So what is it?"
Father Damien played with the bookmark a little as he thought. "It's hard to explain," he said. He thought again for a moment, then decided to try. "Well, for starters, have you ever really taken a good look at Damien's choice of necklaces?"
"Yeah. He wears this cross and a D all of the time. Only he usually wears the D under his shirt so it doesn't get lost or something."
Father Damien nodded. "It's the D that they want. You see, there are three of these D's, and each one is different. Can you tell me what Damien's is?"
Another nod. "I had one which was gold. And there's another one made of diamonds."
"Wow," Ez said. "That sure would look pretty for a necklace."
"They're a lot more than sparklies," Father Damien replied. "Kat would probably get me for telling you stories, but these D's are supposed to have the power to cure any disease or heal any injury."
"Any?" Harvey said, dubiously. "Even the common cold? I didn't think anybody could cure that."
The priest smiled. "Well, they're supposed to. It hasn't been proven yet. That would be up to whoever has all the D's. Now that's enough for a bedtime story. You two go off to bed before you set a bad example for Cynthia and Timothy."
The two awwed but got up. Just as they reached the stairs, however, they heard the door open and close, and footsteps coming closer. "Dami's home!" Harvey shouted, and they ran back through the living room, nearly running into him as he entered through the dining room.
"Hey there!" he said, grabbing Ez by the arm and tickling her. She squealed and tried to break loose. Harvey reached out his own arm to hit Damien, when his eyes locked on those of a young boy standing right behind his uncle. He drew his arm back slowly, staring. The dark-eyed, dark-haired boy did the same. Ez finally freed herself and stopped laughing to notice him too. They fell perfectly silent, all looking at each other like three wild animals meeting in the road.
Father Damien stood up and peered into the darkness, his attention caught as well.
"I suppose I should introduce all of you," Damien said. He stepped to the side so they could get a good look at the boy, who in turn glanced at all of them curiously. "This is Wolfgang. He's a Gypsy. Wolfgang, these are my niece and nephew Esmeralda and Harvey, and my uncle Damien."
"Call me Ez," was all either of the children could say.
Father Damien came forward for a closer look. "A Gypsy? I've never seen one before. I've only heard of them." He held out his hand. "Hello, there. You from around here?"
Wolfgang shook his hand, then wrote on the slate, FROM HERE, AND THERE, AND EVERYWHERE.
"Can't you talk?" Ez asked.
Wolfgang brushed off the relative brusqueness of the question with a shake of his head.
"Weird," Harvey said with awe. "A real live Gypsy here in the house. Sandy would freak."
"Harvey," Damien said warningly.
"Well," Harvey said defensively, "she would. I mean, don't Gypsies steal things and get people to give them money for phony fortunes?"
Damien responded by taking a hold of his wrist and squeezing rather hard. Harvey winced and shut up, getting the point.
"Must be that thing Miss O'Hare calls a stereotype," he offered. "Something you see on TV all the time that isn't always true."
"Must be," Damien said. "All right, you two, you've had your fun. Up to bed."
"Aw, come on!" Ez complained. "It's not that late."
"Look at the clock for goodness' sake! It's after midnight."
"So? That doesn't mean anything. We can stay up all night and not get tired."
Damien crossed his arms, smirking. "You think you can? All right, you try. All night long. Just like Lionel Richie. All night, all night--"
"Okay! We get what you mean!" Harvey exclaimed, and they dashed back upstairs.
Damien turned back to his uncle, still smiling. "They never really did like Lionel Richie, did they?"
Father Damien said nothing, but instead looked down at Wolfgang, who smiled back up at him.
"Where's he going to stay tonight?" he asked.
Damien shrugged. "I never asked. He just said he wanted to come with me."
"I suppose he could stay at my place if he doesn't mind. Do you care?"
Wolfgang looked the priest over a moment, then shook his head. FINE WITH ME.
"Well! Let's go, then. It's late and it's dark out there. See you tomorrow, Damien, and stay out of trouble." He turned to go.
"What, me? Trouble?" Damien said. His uncle turned back to give him a dirty look, and Damien backed away, jokingly putting a hand to his eyes. "Hey, watch it there, Pops! If looks could kill you'd be breaking the Sixth Commandment."
"Bible humor," Father Damien said in a snide tone. "Ha ha. Very funny. See you tomorrow." He took Wolfgang's hand and left.
Damien stood where he was until he heard the station wagon start up and leave, then sat down on the couch, resting his head against the wall, staring up at the air vent. No little eyes were peering out at him--he'd seen them the other night when he and Kat had been arguing about beetles, but hadn't said anything--though he could see that the lights were on. He didn't care. Kids would be kids, and besides, it was still summer vacation. His thoughts drifted for a little while, and then returned to Father Damien's parting words. He sat up slowly. Something about what his uncle had said bothered him. It took him a moment to place it. The way in which he'd spoken. Short, terse sentences. He'd heard that before, and it was during one of the rare occasions they had been arguing. Was he mad about something? That couldn't be it; something must be preoccupying him. Doubtless, of course, something dealing with Scorpio. Damien sat back again, pensive. Sure Scorpio was getting more and more like a tick that had started out small only to swell bigger and bigger, but it wasn't that serious yet.
At least, he hoped it wasn't.
But he'd been wrong before.