D Is For Damien: Chapter 19
IT WAS LATE afternoon by the time they got home, to find Mabarak's dusty land barge parked near the garage. Damien turned to his uncle and rolled his eyes.
"Great," he muttered. "Here we go again."
Father Damien nodded in agreement to this sentiment and they got out. Mabarak was nowhere to be seen. They went inside and through the porch to see if he was there. He was, waiting for them.
"Good day, detectives," he said, sneering on the last word as he flipped his switchblade knife open and shut, leaning against the wall next to the door. "Have any new leads?"
"What are you doin' here, Mugwump?" Damien asked.
Mabarak scowled. "Mabarak. It's Mabarak. Get that right. I came over to check on you two, only to be shot at by a pack of screaming brats. Don't your kids know restraint?"
"Hey, they ain't my kids," Damien replied. "And what's this about shoot?"
"Just what I said. Shoot. With paintballs." He moved his arm, upon which his jacket was hanging, and showed his shirt. It was covered with blue and red splashes of paint. Damien and Father Damien couldn't help but laugh.
"Hey, enough already," Mabarak said, lowering his arm and scowling again. "I'm here for a reason. I know you've been to see that lady--what's her name? Clare Something-Or-Other? What did she have to say?"
Damien was the one to scowl now, immediately suspicious. "Hey, you've been gettin' a little bit nosy lately," he said.
"I'm a cop, that's why," Mabarak replied to this insinuation, as if that would make everything clear. "But enough about me. Ms. Clare has to have given you a lead. What is it?"
Damien stared at him, dubious, for several moments, then cocked his head and decided to answer. "She told us where the last D is, that's what."
Mabarak looked taken aback. "She knows? I didn't think anybody knew that! Where did she say it is?"
"She couldn't tell us exactly. But it's supposed to be in this old copper mine under the city."
"Under the city?" Mabarak exclaimed. He seemed almost ready to have a seizure. "But there's no such thing! This is Cheboygan. There's no underground copper tunnels here!"
"Go tell her that," Damien replied. "But we've got more important things to do right now, if you don't mind--" trying to steer him toward the door.
Mabarak dug his toes into the floor, forcing Damien to stop, and turned around. "Wait a minute. How do you get to these tunnels?"
"She didn't know that, and frankly, I don't really want you to know that either! Now get out of here!" Damien said, getting irritated. He opened the door and gestured sarcastically for him to leave. Mabarak looked annoyed, but grudgingly obeyed. Moments later they could hear his boat exiting the driveway.
"Well said," Father Damien commented.
"Thanks," Damien rejoined. "Come on. Let's check on the kids and see if they're okay. Don't want them to get paint burns or anything."
Later that night Father Damien returned home to go to bed. Damien called him shortly after he arrived, and he answered on the second ring.
"For goodness' sake, Damien, don't you have a life of your own?" he yawned as he made his bed.
"Ha ha," Damien said. "Thank you for your concern. I just wanted to make sure you got home okay."
"No, I didn't. This is a clone talking. No, actually the answering machine is possessed."
"Welllll! I knew there was a sense of humor in there somewhere!" Damien crowed. "All right. I just wanted to make sure. You know me. 'Paranoid' should be my middle name. Dami-paranoid-en. It practically sings, doesn't it?"
"La la la," Father Damien returned. "It sure does. Now good night. I have to get my beauty sleep." He shuddered. "Lord! That's three jokes in the past couple minutes. You better hang up before I get really nuts. Good night, Damien."
"Good night, Uncle," Damien replied, and hung up.
Father Damien smiled and shook his head, then hung up as well and returned to making his bed.
Back at home Damien stretched and went to his room. It usually took him a while to fall asleep, so he would think about things until then. He was really tired tonight, though, so he didn't feel like thinking much. It simply wouldn't be very productive. However, as he was starting to doze off, something crept into his head, and he opened his eyes slightly, frowning at the darkness.
What had awakened him? It hadn't been a noise. He knew that. It had been a thought. Something important. But what? He couldn't think of it. Exasperated, he burrowed into the pillow, straining to remember. Why did this always happen! There would be something important you thought of while dozing, then when you awoke you just couldn't for your life remember what in the world it was. It kept nagging at him but he couldn't bring it back up, so he sighed and tried to go back to sleep, which gradually came.
In that somewhere between consciousness and sleep, he remembered. There was something he had seen before, and it had been strangely out of place. But he couldn't put his finger on it. Vague images drifted before his eyes. There were the colors white and red; something wet; something smooth and hard, cold to the touch, with fine lines or grooves; something sharp and brilliantly shining; and a soft whipping sound with intermittent clicks--whip-click, whip-click, whip-click. He'd heard that sound before. Several times. But where, he just didn't know. Usually all had been as it should have been. But in one place that thing didn't belong. He didn't know how or why. He just knew.
It seemed like only a brief time later that he awoke, the sun shining on him through the bedside window. He would have told Father Damien later that day of what he had recalled, only by then it was a lost memory.
It started to rain early in the morning, obliterating the sunlight. Harvey and Esmeralda were staring out the window despondently when Damien came out of his room and found them. "What's up in da hood?" he asked conversationally. The two kids turned to him with long faces.
"It's all wet," Harvey complained, "and we were planning on goin' to the treehouse today."
Damien frowned and shook his head. "I don't want you guys going out there till all this blows over. It could be dangerous."
"Dangerous?" Ez asked, growing just the tiniest bit excited.
Damien gave her a half-smile. "Don't get me going," was all he said. He yawned; after all of that dreaming--had it been dreaming?--he was still pretty tired. "I'm going back to my room now. Tell me if--"
The telephone rang, cutting him off. Harvey jumped from the window, Ez racing behind, to answer. Ez beat him to it, but only after a brief scuffle, and said, "Hello?"
Damien smiled and rolled his eyes at this odd example of sibling rivalry and headed back for his room.
"Who? Wait a minute. I'll call him." Ez covered the receiver, trying to hold the phone out of the reach of Harvey, who was still clamoring to get it. "Dami! There's some lady who wants to talk to you."
Damien stopped suddenly and his ears pricked. Possibly--? He tried not to whirl around. "What did she say her name is?"
"Hold on." A moment of silence. "Ms. Clary or something. D'ya know her?"
"I'll take it in here," Damien said, taking the phone from Ez and going to his room. He shut the door behind him and put the receiver to his ear.
"Hello?" he asked tentatively.
"Hello, is this Damien?" a woman's voice asked.
"Yeah, this is him," Damien said. "Ms. Clare?"
"It's Miss," she replied, "and I've called to tell you that I just remembered something--about where the tunnels are."
Damien's eyes lit up and he picked up a pencil from the dresser. "Yeah? That's great! Where are they?"
"This is kind of strange, so try to get it right. I remember something about abandoned barrels near a railroad track out in the country someplace, or maybe down near the swamps, marked with bright orange stripes, and a KEEP OUT sign. I can't remember the exact location. But something like that's supposed to mark the entrance. The tunnels go out in every which direction. That's really all that I know."
"Thanks," Damien said gratefully. "We'll find out somehow. But thanks a lot for the help. And, Miss Clare?"
A pause. "Yes?"
"Take care. It's been good knowing you. And if we get through this, I'll buy you a Doberman." He smiled faintly. "If you know what I mean."
He could fancy her smiling the same. "You too, Damien," she replied; then there was a click, and the phone buzzed. Damien pushed the TALK button to hang up, then looked at what he'd written down. And then he got up and left to find Father Damien.
Later in the day he and his uncle met at the B&C to talk over what Miss Clare had told him. Father Damien sipped his iced tea, listening as his nephew described the barrels and sign, then they sat there at the table thinking about where it could be.
"It has to be a secluded place where there aren't many people, yet not so hidden that nobody goes there," Father Damien mused. "Else they wouldn't have bothered to put up a KEEP OUT sign."
"That's for sure," Damien agreed. "But there's lots of places like that in Cheboygan. She said out in the country or in the swamps--and she said something about a 'railroad track.'"
"She must mean the swamps near the railroad bridge."
"Yeah," Damien said, a cold feeling creeping into his chest.
They were interrupted by a cold blast of wind and wet. Turning, they saw Mabarak entering the restaurant, shaking himself off like a soaked dog. He put down his umbrella, which he had been clenching tightly over his head, and shook it off as well. He was cringing for some reason.
"Wonder what's wrong with him," Damien murmured.
"Looks like he's having a bad day," Father Damien said.
Mabarak made his way toward them, still shaking off the rain. "Some napkins, please?" he snapped, holding out his hand like a talon. Damien noticed that he was still shaking--but not because he was wet. It looked like he was in pain.
"Sure," Damien said, pulling some out of the dispenser and handing them over. "Runny nose?"
"Yeah. Sure. What you will." Mabarak attempted to dry himself off, then, seeing it was futile, gave up and sat down next to Damien with one last shake. "So, what brings you two here on such a nice day?" with a sneer.
"These tunnels. I think we're getting closer to where they are."
Mabarak's face lit up. "Really? This lady you talked with--this Miss Clare--did she give you another lead?"
Damien nodded. "Something about there being these barrels in the swamp painted with orange stripes, and a sign saying KEEP OUT near the entrance. That's all she could tell us."
Father Damien noticed that he didn't tell about the railroad track.
Mabarak sat back in his chair. "That's still hard to swallow. Tunnels under the city. It's ridiculous."
"What you will," Damien echoed, taking a drink of his water. "You thirsty? Want some water or something?"
"Water hell!" Mabarak snorted. "I've seen enough of that today, thank you! Coffee for me--I think I'm catching pneumonia here. Or maybe chicken soup. I don't know. Which is better for pneumonia?"
"Get the coffee," Damien said with a snort of his own, and Mabarak did.
"Roll with it," Father Damien whispered.
"I'm trying," Damien replied under his breath.
Mabarak looked up. "Hm?"
"Steve Winwood," Damien said aloud. "Roll with it baby, c'mon, roll with it bay-bay--"
"Okay, okay, I get the picture," Mabarak said, taking a drink. Damien wondered how he didn't toast his tonsils. "Personally I'm a fan of Fleetwood Mac. So that's all she could tell you?"
Damien nodded, taking another drink. "That's it."
"You sure you aren't holding out on me?"
"Pfft," Damien said, waving his hand at the air. "Holding out. Me, hold out? That's rich."
Mabarak gave him a suspicious look but said nothing.
There was a brief pause.
"Well," Damien said, finishing off his drink and standing up--his uncle followed--"I suppose we'll be going now. Nice seein' ya, Mugshot."
"It's Mabarak," Mabarak hissed. "Get that right."
"Sure, sure," Damien said over his shoulder, already walking away. As they went out the door another cold, wet gust blew in. Mabarak, left alone at the booth, shivered and clutched his jacket around him tighter, then resumed drinking his coffee.
It rained all day. By early evening it showed no signs of letting up. That didn't stop Damien from visiting the railroad bridge though, and he stood there in the rain, staring at it from the highway. It took him a while to work up the courage to actually go out on it--he hadn't done so since Lilu had been killed, over four years ago--and look out over the water. The wind lashed it up in small wavelets. He looked over at the little tree he and Lilu used to stay under. It was the only real reminder that was left. Except, that was, for the bridge.
He looked down into the water. Even through the waves and rain, he could occasionally catch a brief glimpse of himself way below, looking back up. It was a forlorn figure, drenched and alone in the dark. There was a brief flash and a distant roll of thunder. The storm was going to get worse. He glanced around him, just noticing how easily he could be hit by lightning, so he left the bridge and started down the slope leading away, back to the highway. He had walked there in the rain earlier, and had intended to take the railroad tracks home the long way, but since the weather was not going to let up he decided on a shortcut. There was a steep little hill down from one side of the bridge. He started down, carefully watching his steps since the rain had made the bank so slippery. Holding onto occasional saplings and shrubs, he made his way down, taking first one slow step into the mud, then another, then--
Suddenly the ground gave way. With a cry Damien found himself first tumbling, then falling--
And then tumbling again. He struck something hard, jarring his shoulder, and was sent sprawling down another slope. It seemed like it would never end! He tried several times to grab onto something but there was nothing to grab onto anymore--just the hard, slippery embankment which he was rolling down. With a sudden sharp blow, he stopped, and lay there motionless as if dead.
Indeed that was how he felt for a few moments. When he finally managed to convince himself that the dead couldn't hurt so much, he lifted his head with a groan. The first thought that came into his mind was if anything was broken. He checked himself over, feeling his arms and legs; all of his bones were sound though he was badly scraped and bruised all over. The second thought was, what had happened? And where was he?
He dragged himself painfully to his feet and looked around, shaking in the wind and wet. He'd fallen down the slope, of course, only it was longer than he'd thought. That was because he'd rolled past where he'd intended on getting back onto the road, down another slope. He was near the riverbank, standing in the tall grass. If he'd gone any further he would have splashed right into the Cheboygan River. He started looking for a way to get back up, when--
The color orange briefly caught his eye.
With a start, he looked again. Barrels--?
No, not barrels. But there was something orange there, further off, near the M-33 bridge--
He plodded toward it achingly, stumbling and sloshing through the reeds, then reached down to pick it up. He held it up to his face since it was so dark and looked it over.
A piece of wood, painted orange. Smooth wood. Perhaps from a barrel.
That meant he must be close! He turned quickly to find a way up, only to groan again as he remembered--he was injured. He had to take this slowly.
Only his mind didn't work that way.
With a resigned sigh he put the wood in his shorts pocket and took hold of a sapling, then started on his way back up. It was going to be a long walk home.
The lights were on when he reached the house. He came in to find Father Damien, Kat, Choby, and the kids playing Trivial Pursuit in the living room. Upon hearing him enter they all looked up. Harvey's and Ez's eyes got wide, and the other three stood immediately.
"Holy cow, Dami!" Choby exclaimed.
"Dami! What happened?" Kat asked.
Father Damien came forward and took his arm. "Are you all right?"
Damien nodded, still dazed. "Yeah...I just fell."
"Just?" Harvey echoed.
"It was kind of a long just," Damien explained, coming in and sitting down on the couch. Kat left the room to get some peroxide as he rubbed his sore shoulder. "I was just out on the bridge...and I kinda slipped in the mud and fell down the slope to the river. That's all. Nothing's broke or anything. I checked. I'm okay. Just a little shook up, that's all."
"You look like you've been through heck and back," Choby remarked. "What were you doin' out there, anyway? This's terrible weather to be outside--and on an old railroad bridge, especially!"
Damien noted, in the back of his head, that he hadn't said anything about the railroad bridge. But he let it pass--maybe he wasn't so inscrutable, after all.
"I know," he admitted, "it was kinda stupid. But I'm okay." Kat came in with the peroxide and Damien took it, rubbing some on his cuts and scratches. "Sometimes you do stupid things when your mind's on something else." He handed the bottle back, also taking note of how concerned Kat seemed to be now. He brightened up, suddenly remembering what he'd found. "But wait a minute! I found something--" He took the orange piece of wood out of his pocket and handed it to his uncle. "It was under the highway, by the river. It looks like it could've been part of a barrel--doesn't it?"
Father Damien took it and looked it over. "Curved," he said, feeling it with his fingers. "It could be." He looked at Damien. "But this is it? No barrels themselves?"
Damien shook his head. "No. That's all I found--and on accident. I saw it when I hit bottom." He gave a crooked smile, then winced and again rubbed his shoulder.
"Harvey, put this on the mantel," Father Damien said, giving the wood to Harvey. Harvey did so without question, then came back, curious about what was going on.
"It's late," Father Damien said, as he had many times before. "And my instincts tell me you haven't been getting much sleep lately. Why don't you get to bed?"
"Milk always makes me sleep," Ez suggested helpfully.
"So does reading the dictionary," Harvey added.
Damien smiled and reached over, skewing Ez's ribbon and Harvey's hat. "Sounds good. Webster, here I come." He got up and headed for his room. "Well, thanks," he called back to no one in particular, disappearing then down the darkened hallway.