D Is For Damien: Chapter 21
The Tunnel Discovered!
"WHAT ARE YOU thinking?"
Damien didn't hear Dino's voice at first. He was too busy staring off into space, absently swirling his fork around in his salad while thoughts likewise swirled around in his head. Thoughts centering on what Keemo had said--about his sister. How had he known?
"Hmm?" Damien hummed, shaking his head slightly and suddenly remembering his companion.
Dino was sitting across from him in a B&C booth, eating a large plate of spaghetti. "I said, what're you thinking?"
Damien shrugged, setting down his fork. "Not much." Then he picked up his napkin and started twisting the corner and bit his lip thoughtfully. "Hey, Dino, d'you believe in psychics?"
Dino looked up at him, his eyebrows knitting together. "Psychics?"
"Yeah, you know, these weird people that sit around crystal balls having séances and spouting all this wacky hocus-pocus stuff."
"Well, I suppose so, but I never really thought of them as being called psychics."
"Well, what do you call them?"
Dino thought a moment, then shrugged. "Fortune tellers, I suppose. Or diviners. Or seers. Prophets, maybe. But I always thought of psychics as being those people that can bend spoons or start fires just by looking at things. Kind of like that Stephen King book, y'know what I mean?"
"All right, diviners, seers, prophets. But do you believe in them?"
"Sure," Dino said with another shrug. "We have one in our family. My grandmother. Y'know, they say it runs in our family. My ma shows signs of it, and one of my sisters, so heck, I'm just waitin' to see if my turn's ever gonna come up." And he chuckled, eating his spaghetti.
Damien smiled faintly, again fiddling with his fork. Dino pointed at his roll. "You gonna eat that?"
Damien shook his head. "Go right ahead."
"Thanks." He watched as Dino wolfed down the roll, wondering if they ever ate in Italy, or wherever it was he came from; then Dino said, between mouthfuls, "Y'know--" it was a phrase he used quite often "--they say that there's this thing about being the seventh son of a seventh son, and that makes you 'psychic' or something. Do you believe that?"
Damien paled almost imperceptibly. Luckily Dino wasn't looking at him. When he did look up Damien forced a smile he hoped was convincing, hitched a shoulder--being careful it wasn't his sore one--and lied. "I wouldn't know. I'm the eighth son of a seventh son."
Dino shrugged again. "Well...seems close enough, don't it?" He laughed and swallowed another mouthful.
A hand was suddenly put on his shoulder and he shrieked, jumping up and nearly splattering the spaghetti all over. Damien also stood, his reflexes fast as quicksilver. Officer Brown stood back with his hands up in an "I'm harmless" gesture, and Damien untensed and sat down. Dino, however, was still shaking and jumpy.
"Easy, Dino," Damien said, as if he were a horse. "This is just Officer Brown. He was one of the first ones there after Morris was killed. You remember Morris, the guy I told you about earlier?"
Dino nodded and sat down, managing to look slightly back to normal. He flashed the cop a funny grin.
"I just came by to see how you're doin' lately," Officer Brown said, clasping his hands behind his back and cocking his head. "Everything goin' on all right around here?"
Damien nodded. "Y'know, I think we might be getting closer to the bottom of this after all." He held up a glass. "Drink of water?"
"Nah," Officer Brown replied, shaking his head. "Got some coffee back at the station. Yeah, it's true, we pigs like coffee and donuts."
Dino gave a crazy laugh. Damien looked at him for a moment, then set the glass back down. "Care to join us?" he offered now, gesturing to the empty spot beside Dino.
Officer Brown shook his head again. "Sorry, but I gotta get going. Heard about an attempted break-in out in the country. Some lady's awful lucky she's cautious with locks."
Damien's blood ran cold. He remembered looking at Miss Clare's door and seeing five locks--two bolts, a chain, the key lock, and the doorstopper, as well as the windows. "Is she all right?" he asked anxiously.
Officer Brown looked puzzled by his reaction to this seemingly unrelated news, but shrugged. "Last I heard. Just shook up a little, if y'know what I mean."
Damien again picked up the water glass, trying to regain his composure. "Yeah," he said, in barely a whisper, taking a drink. "I know what you mean."
"Lady...?" Dino murmured, then decided not to pursue it. There was food to be eaten. Any news would have to wait.
Damien stretched his shoulders and winced slightly. One was still smarting a little from his fall near the bridge. "Before you go, you seen Mabarak lately?" he asked.
"Mabarak? Oh, you mean that lieutenant guy. Yeah, I seen him around. Down near the old railroad bridge. Stopped him there, asked what he was up to, he just kinda snorted and said, 'Nothing much' or somethin' like that. Looked irritated. Then again, he always does." Brown chuckled. "Now there's tight strung if I ever seen it. The guy better watch or he'll string himself too tight and end up snapping."
"I believe he already has," Damien muttered, but so that Brown could hear. Brown, however, made no show of noticing. "What d'you say, Dino?"
Dino looked up, caught. "Huh?"
"You mean to tell me that you didn't hear a word of that?"
"Word of what?" Dino asked, looking from one of them to the other, puzzled.
Damien sighed and turned back to Officer Brown.
"Hey, I can't help it," Dino protested. "It's a chemical imbalance. So I'm attention-deficit, okay? I can't help it if I'm hyperactive!"
"Yeah, yeah, okay, okay, okay," Damien snapped at him. "Take a chill pill." He turned to Brown again. "If you ever see him around, tell him to unwind or something."
"I'll do that," Brown replied. He held out his hand and Damien slapped it, then clutched it the way old buddies sometimes do. "See you around."
"You too," Damien replied, again returning to his food. The policeman turned away and exited the building, again leaving them to themselves.
Dino lifted his head and sniffed the air. "Somethin' smells pretty good. I wonder what it is."
"Aren't you full already?" Damien asked, incredulous.
"Comes with the territory," Dino simply replied, then indicated a bowl of cottage cheese next to Damien's salad. "You gonna eat that?"
Exasperated, Damien pushed it across the table where Dino took it and it met the same fate as the roll. He shook his head. "If you're askin' me, Mabarak's up to something," he said. He knew he might as well have been talking to the air with how well Dino listened, but that didn't matter. He had to get it off his chest for once. "First he just appears out of nowhere, then he seems to know more than he's letting on--"
"I think he's acting," Dino said around a mouthful of spaghetti.
Damien looked at him, surprised that he'd been listening. "Well. There is some life in there." He smiled gamely and pointed to a serving of gelatin near Dino's elbow. "You gonna eat that?" he asked sarcastically.
"Naw," Dino said, surprising him again. "Got sugar. No good."
Damien furrowed his brow, confused. "What, now all of a sudden he's watching what he eats. You one of those health freaks?"
Dino looked thoughtful for a brief second, then shrugged and nodded. "Well, yyeeaahh, if you call staying alive being a health freak."
"Ohhh," Damien said, finally getting it. "I see. Never mind."
"Don't bother me," Dino replied, finishing up his spaghetti. "It's a--whadda they call it?--fact of life? I dunno. Sounds like I'm talking about sex or something." He took a drink of orange juice; Damien now got why he hadn't ordered a soft drink like anybody else.
"Ready?" he asked.
Dino stretched and yawned, then immediately snapped back to life and stood up with a big grin. "Yeah, I sure am! Let's go."
"You don't need to take any penicillin or anything, do you?" Damien asked as he got up from the booth, leaving a tip.
Dino gave him a dirty look. "Insulin, not penicillin. Jeez. Get with it already." He stalked away toward the doors.
Smiling to himself, Damien followed, paid the check, and they went outside together.
The next evening, after making several calls, Damien and his uncle met in the parking lot of the RLDS Church on M-33. With them were Dino, Wolfgang, Kat, Damon, and, because they'd begged, Harvey and Ez, who were whining about getting along. The others were constantly rattling out shut-ups and quiet-downs. After about ten minutes Mabarak's dusty land barge pulled in and parked and the lieutenant got out, flipping his switchblade as usual, chewing on a toothpick as he had the first time he and Damien had met. Damien hadn't really wished for him to come along--in reality he'd wanted only his uncle, Wolfgang, and himself to go since the others could only cause trouble--but decided he'd better give him a call or Mabarak would have a snit. Mabarak stopped several feet away, flipping his knife, staring at them intently.
"You really believe what some fortune teller kook told you about these tunnels?" he said, stressing both kook and tunnels. He obviously wasn't convinced yet. Damien would just have to show him.
"I don't know," he admitted, "but with what he said last, about my si--I think he's really onto something," abruptly cutting himself off.
Mabarak's eyes narrowed, but he spoke no further.
"Well," Father Damien said, glancing at his watch, "we should get going. It's getting late."
"Yeah! Let's go!" Harvey cried, and he and Ez jumped up and started running for the highway.
"Not so fast," Damien said. The two kids stopped in their tracks and peered back at him timidly, their excitement fading. Damien crossed his arms in that "I'm the adult, you're the kid, so you do what I tell you" gesture. "You two stay here with Damon. It's too dangerous for you to be running around down there. Heck, even we don't know what to expect."
"Oohhhh," the kids whined, turning around and stomping their feet like little skunks performing a warning dance. "But Wolfgang gets to go!" Harvey persisted.
"That's because he's older and he can help us. Now you two just stay put. If we find anything, and if it's safe, we'll come back out and get you. But not until then."
"We never get to have any fun," Ez pouted, but they sat down crossly upon the asphalt, their arms crossed and their lower lips sticking out slightly.
Damien looked at Damon. "Don't worry," Damon assured him. "I'll stay right here. I've always had this kind of inner fear about underground tunnels." He tried to laugh but was so nervous it sounded odd. Damien understood him though and nodded, then turned back to the group.
"Well," he said, spreading out his arms to the others gathered there, "here goes. Mabarak, take a shovel. Dino, you too."
The two did as they were told and followed him across the highway, walking north a bit and then down into the wooded swamps. Wolfgang, Kat, and Father Damien followed, looking for any signs of black-scarred trees. As they tromped down into the thick grass Mabarak swung his shovel over his shoulder, muttering out loud.
"This is all a wild-goose chase," he complained. "How could tunnels possibly exist under Cheboygan without anybody knowing about them? Come on."
"I don't know," Damien said, "but I really have a gut feeling they do. And it's not often that I get gut feelings."
"Tell me about it," Mabarak said.
Damien let it pass.
They walked in silence for a few more moments. Then Wolfgang grabbed Kat's sleeve and started tugging, pointing with the other hand. Kat squinted and shone her flashlight into the woods. An old maple loomed before her, its side marked with a wide black gash.
"Hey!" she called, her voice echoing through the woods. "I think we've found the tree!"
The others stopped and turned back. Mabarak leaned on his shovel and scratched his head, pushing back his hat. "Well," he said, "the old Gypsy was right about that much. Let's see how much more on the mark he was."
With that they spread out around the tree, each looking in a different direction. Kat and Wolfgang searched down in a little hollow nearby. Mabarak and Damien went one way, and Father Damien and Dino another. The last two disappeared over a small hill. Damien and Mabarak found another hill, partly composed of a huge, uprooted tree trunk covered with moss and dead leaves, and started inspecting it carefully.
Mabarak poked it with his shovel. "Nothing here," he said doubtfully.
"Let's just look around a bit more," Damien persisted, also filled with that dark feeling. They did so for several minutes; Mabarak finally gave up and started off to see how Father Damien and Dino were doing. Damien continued searching the trunk--nothing but leaves and dirt. With a sigh of annoyance he brushed aside a handful and turned away to follow Mabarak, when something bright caught his eye.
Startled, he whirled around to face the trunk again, playing his flashlight over it. There was something there--
In neon orange!
With a quick brush of his hand he swiped the remaining leaves away. His breath caught in his throat.
After staring at it for some time with dumb amazement he managed to speak. "I--I found it," he said softly, and then, as if realizing the others wouldn't be able to hear him, he cried out, "I found it! I found it!"
Rustles and crashes. After several moments the others started appearing seemingly out of nowhere. Father Damien and Mabarak were the first to reach the scene, trying not to trip over roots and fallen branches as they came up panting, the others close behind.
"Where? Did you find it?" Mabarak asked, looking around.
"Where is it?" his uncle echoed, as if Mabarak weren't even there.
In response Damien reached out and tore down the old sign. It came loose with a complaining creeeak and a loud splintering of wood, causing the others to shield their eyes. Damien merely tossed it aside and bent over, looking ahead closely. Several barrels which had once been striped bright orange, now faded and worm eaten, were nearly concealed by hanging roots. With one strong kick they were instantly obliterated, and everybody gathered around the hole they left. The people of the group then found themselves staring down what appeared to be an endless dark passageway.