It's been a long day, and the sun is starting to die against the teeth of the mountains as you get home. You live in Santa Clarita, for now, in a little apartment that is exactly big enough to have a bed, a small fridge, and a bookshelf. It's too expensive, but it's out of the jungle south of the 10, and its also the home of retired cops everywhere -- which means your old "friends" aren't so eager to stop by. When you walk in the light on your answering machine is flashing.
It takes a moment for her to see the light, first locking the door behind her, then setting her things down on what passes for a kitchen counter (i.e., the top of the fridge). As she's kicking off her shoes, she sees the flashing message light, and walks over to hit the button. Listening to it, she rummages through the refrigerator for something to drink.
The cheese on the top shelf of the fridge has a strip of mold growing on the top, shaped like a collapsing mobius-strip. There isn't much else in there, some coke and a part empty bottle of tonic. As you're rummaging the messages play, separated by beeps.
"Heya, Maria, it's Jen. I was wondering can you open for me tomorrow? I'll be in -- I just need you to cover for me for like, an hour or so. Let me know, ey?"
Silence for a moment, then the sound of a phone being hung up.
A throat being cleared, uncomfortably. "Maria? Hey, a, it's your da... it's Joe. I'm in town for a couple days, and I really want to meet up with you. I know you probably don't want to see me, but... it's important. Really important. I'm staying at the Circle 8 on Reseda, (818) 672-8926. Call me, please? It's... it's about... redemption, I guess."
"There are no more messages."
'"An hour or so," Maria mutters. "Which means probably two." She shakes her head as she opens up the can of coke, making yet another mental note to throw away the cheese. The sound of the next voice makes her stop. She turns to the answering machine as if she were turning to the source of the message itself. She chews on her lower lip for a moment, then grabs a stub of pencil and scribbles down the number. She looks at the number a moment then sets it down. She sits down, sips the coke, looks at the number by the phone. For a moment she struggles with herself, then she sighs and picks up the phone and dials.
It rings three times, then is picked up. A woman with a Vietnamese accent so thick you hardly understand her answers, "Circle 8, clean rooms at a clean price. How may I help you?"
Maria pauses a moment. "Uh." Damn. Why didn't he give her a room number? "Joe Sampson's room, please?" She stands and starts to pace, nervous energy spilling over from the tips of her fingers to the ends of her hair.
"Show? OH! Yoseph!" The line goes quiet, then clicks, buzzes four times. After the fourth the Vietnamese lady's voice comes back. "I sorry, he no answer. Probably out getting food. He's going to dinner with his daughter."
Maria fidgets a moment, considering. "Yeah. Uh, thanks anyway." She looks at the clock and considers. "Yeah, thanks." Before she's even hung up the phone, she's reaching to put her shoes back on.
The evening air is waiting for you. It's dry and just above "cool" despite the fact that it's January and the sun is down. The Santa Ana winds bring all the dust and heat out of the desert and leave it swirling around your parking lot, along with the ripped up pages of a Hustler magazine.
Maria ignores the garbage, just like she ignores the dust. She still moves with extreme care when out on the street -- any street -- that much at least she has not been able to leave behind. After a block or so, she starts wishing for a jacket.
Your car, which you always leave parked away from the house for security, is waiting under the streetlight. The poor thing looks miserable and much used. At least there is some truth in advertising these days, as a Dodge Dart with 375,000 miles on it is not the world's most wonderful car. No one else is on the street, though you can hear the rush of the 5 just down the block.
Out of long habit, Maria looks around before getting into the car, to the point of looking carefully in the car as well. She stops just short of peeking under the car. She climbs in and coaxes the engine to life, giving the car an encouraging murmur until it gets going.
It starts, as usual, and chugs and bangs and pings as you roll down the Via Princessa to the freeway. This time of night all the traffic is going north, so your trip south is about as painless as it gets. 25 minutes later you're rolling off onto Reseda just north of Panorama city. 10 minutes and two long red lights later you're outside the Circle 8.
Looking around the parking lot -- not that she'd know his car anyway -- she gets out of the car and starts toward the office, fidgeting with her keys, bouncing them in one hand, only putting them in her pocket when she gets to the office door.
As you get to the office door a large man opens it and walks out. Nothing's really remarkable about him -- jeans and t-shirt -- save that he has a tattoo of a tear drop hanging from his left eye. Absently he holds the door open for you, bouncing his keys in his hand till the right one comes out on top.
Maria looks up at the man for a moment, frowning thoughtfully at the tattoo, out of place on such an ordinary man. "Thanks," she says, out of habit, distracted.
The guy mutters something in response, and lets go of the door as soon as you're past him. He goes to the purple El Camino just by the door and starts it up as the door closes behind you. The office is antiseptic, mass-issued and undifferentiated. The only personality it has is a rack of postcards, all fronted with famous works of art. A little old Vietnamese woman is standing behind the counter, fingering through a roll of bills.
"Excuse me," Maria says, glancing back at the purple car before turning to the old woman. "I'm looking for Joe Sampson, can you tell me what room he's in?"
The old woman freezes for a moment, looking down at the bills (there has to be a grand there, all cash), and then slowly looks up at you. "Show? You mean Yoseph? He in room 104, you know."
Maria ignores the cash, rather pointedly. She gives one of her best smiles. "Thank you. I called earlier." After that rather pointless statement, her cheeks color a bit and she turns to go.
As you walk out the old woman scurries into the back room, and you hear a heavy metal door, to your ears clearly a safe, open and close in quick order. Outside you can see the motel rooms starting right by the office, with 104 just 4 doors down. The curtains are drawn, but you can see flickering lights on the other side.
Maria takes a deep breath, then reaches up to knock at the door, rapping twice sharply. She straightens her shoulders, and resists the urge to tug at her clothing. Once again she chews at her lower lip, reminding herself that she really doesn't care about this anymore.
The door rattles on its hinges at your knock, and a loud crash comes from inside the room.
A word that Maria hasn't said in years escapes before she has a chance to think about it. "Dad?" She goes tense with alarm, halfway between kicking in the door and turning to get into her car.
A brief electric blue blaze arcs behind the curtains, then the room beyond goes dark. A heavy thud follows, and then a deep silence. As you look at the door, thinking of kicking, you realize that the frame around where the deadbolt would be is splintered -- a sure sign that someone forced the door with an s-bar.
"Shit." She says the word carefully into the deep silence. For a moment her palm itches for the weight of a weapon, before she pushes at the door. If that doesn't work, she'll start kicking. Urgency hasn't overcome caution, not yet.
The door swings open, creaking slightly on unstable hinges, into a scene of terror. There is blood everywhere, and darkness where the still wet scarlet is not. Only the streetlight outside illuminates the room in a thin dim band going through the doorway. Lying in the center of that band is a smashed television, your bloody, broken father lying twitching beside it.
Urgency starts to take over, kicking caution out of the way for now. In a heartbeat she is across the room kneeling beside the man to see if there's anything to be done. Her face is set in a tight, tense mask, mouth taut against the blood and the fear.
The torso, not connected to the legs and only slightly to the left arm, twitches as you kneel. One eye rolls towards you, the other doesn't move. There's nothing you can do -- there isn't anything anyone could do. That he's still alive at all is a miracle. Just as all this is settling in, what remains of his mouth hisses forth, "Your brother... they are trying to find your brother."
"Wh-What?" Maria blinks, her mind trying to assimilate the ruined body with the voice. "Who? Who's trying to find him?" She starts to say something further, but the words don't come.
The words are a breath hissing from the dust, and nothing more. "The Crying Men. They... " he chokes on blood, a thick black clot oozing out his mouth as he gags it away. "He, he is at the Nursery at St Cecilias. Find him. Jesus" he pronounces it the Spanish way, "his name... Jesus. Take him to the king."
Maria makes herself reach up and wipe away the blood from her father's mouth, "King, what king? I don't understand." After wiping the blood away, she starts to reach to give comfort, but does not know how, not to a body so damaged. "Papa, hang on, please. I don't understand. What happened?"
When you wipe the blood away you notice his eye, the one that still tracks to movement. It is not an eye, it is an abyss, it is the night sky, and behind it a hundred thousand stars swirl in endless patterns. "The nursery, St. Cecilias... they are already on the way. I could not hide him." His eye closes, "The King, the sword in the stone... in the ... desert. Excalibur." A last breath slides out of him, and his tortured body holds him no more.
Maria nearly starts to cry, frightened by the enormity contained within that eye in a way that the blood and gore could not frighten her. Her instincts war, street sense telling her if she runs now, covered in blood and fleeing the scene, she'll have the cops on her ass in a heartbeat. Something deeper twitches at the urgency of her dying father's words, telling her to go and find the boy before... 'they' can. She does what she can to close her father's eyes, then stands, still horribly confused.
Someplace in the background a radio is playing. Sheryl Crow is singing, "Used to be I could drive up to Barstow for the night. Find some crossroad trucker to demonstrate his might. But these days it seems nowhere is far enough away. So I'm leaving Las Vegas today...." A car engine starts, and the radio is drowned out. The father you never knew is dead, and somewhere a big man with a tear tattooed on his face is hunting the brother you thought was dead.
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