Lucifer: Chapter 11
An Uneasy Invitation
FOR A MOMENT or two Damien could say nothing. When he finally did speak, all that he could force out was, "You never told me that."
"It was at Dairy Queen," Father Damien replied. "When he was passing out. I looked down at his arm and saw a scorpion tattoo. It was wrapped around a knife. And it was red and black." He shrugged. "How much more proof do you need?"
"I don't know," Damien admitted, pushing himself away from the tree and pacing across the grass. "Maybe he's just a Scorpio, born in November or something like I thought, and that's his way of showing it. I just don't understand why he'd be talking to us if he was in the cult."
Father Damien sighed. Hadn't they gone over this already? "Nothing Scorpio does has to make sense, Damien," he persisted. His speaking was almost a plea now, a plea for Damien to open up his mind and listen to reason. Whatever Damien had in mind wasn't bound to be good. "You know that. You know that very well."
"And so do you. But I just can't convince myself. He doesn't seem--"
"He doesn't seem what, Damien? Like the criminal type? Take a good hard look at yourself then."
Damien spun around, a retort on his lips--How much does he know?--but relented, seeing the look on his uncle's face. Again he couldn't be sure if he knew anything or not. Maybe it was simply intuition. He sighed and rubbed his forehead tiredly.
"Uncle, this's been a hard week," he said. "Maybe we're all just losin' it. The weather, it's hot; maybe we need some rest...." He remembered suddenly what Father Damien had said a moment ago about Derrick passing out and the original reason he'd come to visit struck him again. "Hey, hold on! When Derrick passed out--"
"What about it?"
"Well--maybe it's just me, but I think you'd have a much better chance of passing out in the heat than in an air-conditioned room, don't you?"
A puzzled frown. "True. What are you getting at?"
"Maybe you're right, Uncle. Maybe not. But there's definitely something Derrick's holding back from us. The necklace, the tattoo, the fainting spell in Dairy Queen--it all just doesn't fit together somehow."
Father Damien nodded. "Or maybe, it all fits together too well and we just can't see it yet. That's what I've been trying to tell you."
Damien sighed again. "I know. But let's both of us try to keep an open mind about this, okay?"
The priest looked skeptical for a moment, but finally nodded. "All right," he said, "but that means you, too. You've got to be careful. Watch out, Damien. Watch your back."
"I will, Uncle," Damien replied. He meant it, and would hold up to it as best as he could--whatever that entailed. "I will."
Damien had no idea whatsoever of how to contact Derrick, since he had no known number or residence, at least according to the phone book. So he kept looking around different parts of Cheboygan, hoping to find him sometime. He especially tried the park and the city beach, as Derrick had seemed to feel something about the latter, though with no luck. For several days this continued and he was starting to think Derrick was gone for good, along with all of his weird cult mumbo jumbo. Probably just another weirdo trying to get close to the family, he thought with annoyance. A real money-grubber. But why all the theatrics?
As hard as he tried to convince himself that must be the true reason--Derrick must just be some kind of fraud--he couldn't totally accept the idea. In fact he couldn't accept it at all. Someone trying to get close to the family wouldn't make themselves so unlikable!
It got to the point where he started asking around, but of course no one knew who in the world Derrick Grant was; even Officer Jones at the station was stumped, and had to look back through Amelia Grant's file and wonder to himself what the connection was. No one else would bother explaining to him what was going on. Damien had had the feeling the police wouldn't be any help; disgusted, he left the station, and went off to be by himself for a while.
There were the same two spots he would go to do so; one was the old railroad bridge over the Cheboygan River, and the other was Lilu's grave. He would sit there and talk to her sometimes, though usually not when other people were visiting, since he didn't want them to think he was nuts or anything. Just because other people did it and weren't looked upon oddly didn't mean he was going to admit he engaged in something so weird. The bridge seemed cold and remote at this time; it always did, though today it felt even more so. He went instead to the Alverno cemetery next to the Cracker Barrel general store, and sat down on the grass beside Lilu's little plaque. He set down a batch of lilies and stared up into the treetops for a while. If he were going to be buried sometime soon (which he hoped didn't happen), he'd have preferred it to be someplace small and shady and quiet like this, away from the city and within view of the old St. Francis church steeple.
"Y'know, I think I'm too gullible," he said, trying to count the differing shades of green the sunlight made in the leaves. The treetops formed emerald and chartreuse stained-glass windows against the sky. "Time after time it seems I fall for people who aren't what they say they are. And the same thing ends up happening. But you know that already." He glanced ruefully at the headstone. Even after three years he still couldn't convince himself he'd done everything he could to help her. "I guess we both know that." He fell back on the grass beside the plaque, lying in the cemetery and looking up through the trees at the blue sky with its fluffy white clouds drifting by.
"There's this guy I just met, Derrick Grant; have you heard of him?" he asked, making it a rhetorical question, since he knew there would of course be no answer. He paused as if listening for an answer anyway. It seemed the polite thing to do. "No one else has. It's like he's not for real. I've been trying to get in touch with him but I don't know how. And now I think he's telling me lies. I think he's with them." He traced the outline of a bird-shaped cloud with his fingertip. "Isn't life wonderful, when you're surrounded by the same people who are responsible for the breakup of your family? They're all over. Like lice. Or fleas. Or some kind of little vermin." A rare smile passed over his face as he was able to illustrate this by picking an errant ant off his arm, tossing it away. "Y'know, Lil, sometimes I believe I'm actually envious of you. You're sleeping peacefully, while I'm down here--"
"So you do believe in Heaven."
Damien sat up with a start, scrambling to his feet to see Derrick standing several feet away, on the other side of Lilu's grave, staring at him coolly.
Damien didn't know if he flushed or not, but his face certainly felt hot. He'd never felt so invaded before.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, momentarily forgetting himself in the rush of anger from being interrupted in his solitude. He wondered with some humiliation how long Derrick had been there--and what he'd heard.
Derrick just frowned. "What's it to you? This is a public cemetery."
Damien backed down a little--he had a point--though he was still extremely peeved. He stared at Derrick for a moment before responding. "Please move your foot," he said icily.
Derrick looked down and saw that he was standing partially on where Lilu would be buried. He quickly did as Damien told him, but then looked up again, angry himself.
"Not to ruin your nice little world view, but how do you know which way she went?" he asked. "Up or down?"
What RIGHT--!! Damien's teeth and fists clenched at the same time; his eyes would have clenched if they were able, but he had to settle instead for a furious squint.
"I knew her," he said through his teeth, his voice forced low. "She was my light, my life. Until somebody took it away."
"So why aren't you lying under the ground?"
Damien snorted. It felt like steam was coming out his nose. "A part of me is," he said, in all truth. He jabbed a finger at the ground. "Right here. A part called Lilu. But I suppose you wouldn't understand that, since you have no life, right?"
Now Derrick's eyes narrowed. "You don't know me," he replied, his voice also deadly low, "so I don't see how you can lay out my life--or my lack of life--for me."
"Good. I won't if you don't do the same for my sister. You never even met her."
Derrick seemed ready to say something, but he shut his mouth and glared over Damien's shoulder. Damien turned to see his uncle walking toward them. He hadn't even heard his old station wagon pull up to the side of the road. He felt his own fists unclench; he wondered now how much of the conversation Father Damien had heard, but saw that, whatever he had heard, he wasn't going to show he had. Instead he offered a faint smile and joined them, the three making a little semicircle around Lilu's grave. There was an awkward pause.
"Good morning," he said after a moment, cheerfully enough, considering. He actually bounced on his heels. "I'm glad to see you two have gotten back in touch."
"Yeah, so am I," Damien muttered. "Thrilled."
"I can't stay for long," Derrick said, then adding, "I have to be going." He started to turn away.
"So soon?" Father Damien asked with surprise. Damien suddenly realized he really was a good liar--when it was permitted. Derrick reluctantly turned back. "I was hoping you two would join me at my house for lunch. Ham sandwiches." An almost evil grin. "I make wonderful ham sandwiches."
Damien had to smile at that. At least he knew that wasn't a lie.
"And deviled eggs, too?" he inquired, on a whim.
Both of them saw the look Derrick gave them, a furious flare quick as a flashbulb, but pretended not to notice it. Father Damien shrugged. "Sure, deviled eggs, if you want. Did I mention I make great deviled eggs, too?"
"I'm game," Damien said with a strange smile, turning to face Derrick. The smile he offered now was as annoyingly cloying as the tone of his voice. "What do you say, Derrick? Would you like to come along?"
For a moment both of them were certain Derrick would say no, he had more important business elsewhere, no thank you very much, as he eyed them suspiciously. Finally he gave a sort of shrug and surprised them both by muttering, "Sure, why not. I'm for ham sandwiches."
"Great!" Father Damien exclaimed with a clap of his hands. Damien was amazed by how well he could keep this up. Do they teach them this in Catholic school? "Come along, then. It's not too far from here." He turned and walked back toward the station wagon.
Damien went after him, back to his own car, noting that Derrick paused a moment before following. He wasn't sure how he'd shown up in the first place but Derrick headed for Father Damien's car. It was just as well. Damien knew he couldn't keep up his "innocent" act as well as Father Damien could. He was already thinking of what his uncle might be up to. In the back of his head he wondered what was next on the menu--and he didn't mean the one with ham sandwiches.