25,130 / 50,000
Things fall into place, as we reach the halfway mark. My biggest regret thusfar as that I wanted to have more of a lurking horror feel, of stuff on the edges just out of sight, and not just 'guy with bad dreams'. Fingers crossed that I can get some of that in before too much longer.
While Charlie told his side of things, Brendan took additional notes, and often flipped back to compare with those from the other witnesses.
"Ok, so Markus Benjamin picks up a random hitchhiker, drives him all the way here, where someone just so happens to be waiting to kill him? Everyone says the suspect made a beeline straight for the deceased, even you. This doesn't read like some random robbery to me."
Charlie shook his head in agreement. "No, it doesn't. It is possible that it could be just that, though. He's driving a new car, he's wearing nice clothes, and look at the watch he was wearing."
"Yeah, except we can look at the watch, and he still has his wallet. You don't really believe that it was just a robbery, I can see it in your eyes. If you'd stopped him before he started leaving, I might be able to buy into it being a robbery, but all the folk say he stabbed, turned to leave, walked past you, and then you grabbed him. He made no play for the vic's wallet at all."
"The only thing he wanted was to come in here and stab someone in the neck," Charlie concluded the officer's thoughts.
"And so," said Brendan, as he gestured to Charlie with his pen, "it comes right back to you. The only person who knew Markus in the whole town."
Charlie's face soured. He furrowed his brow, and glared at his former friend. "I can't say I'm keen on that accusation, Brendan. There were others, and I know you know that. He had a condo, so was up here at least for skiing. He knew where this place was. Suzie surely knew him, probably Sofia too. But here I sit, because I spent a few hours with the guy in a car."
By the time he finished, Charlie's voice had raised, nearing a shout, and he was jabbing his finger in Brendan's direction.
Brendan lowered his pen and pad, and raises his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Ok, calm down. I'm just following the trail, Charlie. You said yourself that you felt like it was connected to you. Care to elaborate on that any?"
The depths of Charlie's coffee mug offered no answers as he looked into the empty vessel, staring at the stained, glazed cereamic.
"I would," began Charlie, "but you would never believe me." He had wanted to tell someone for so long. He'd even kept most of it from his sister. The only people who had ever heard much of anything were those that looked after Charlie just after he killed his mother. Even then, he kept a lot of the details out. They already thought he was crazy, and Charlie saw no need to fan that fire any further than was necessary to try and explain what had happened.
"You might be surprised what I would believe, Charlie. So come on, give it up."
Charlie sighed, "Look, I'd really rather not."
"If it will get us out of here, and clear things up, spill the beans."
Shaking his head, Charlie couldn't help but grin ruefully. "Trust me, it won't clear up anything. And I don't like talking about it, especially not here. Why don't we meet for a beer later, and we can catch up, and if I get drunk enough, we can talk all about it. You'll probably be grateful for the beer afterwards."
"No offense, Charlie, but the last guy who you made an appointment with to meet for some chow and drinks? Kinda ended up on the wrong end of a knife. You're free to go, for now. But stick around, I may have some more questions."
Brendan paused and stood, shaking his head as he looked back towards Markus, whose body was finally started to be taken away, just as the flies were realising that a new place for them had opened up in town. "Hell, I know I've got more questions, but I've gotten as much as I can from you for now.
"I'm going against the letter of the law just letting you go; by all rights you should be locked away until you speak. Everyone says you tried to stop the guy though, and despite a lotta years between, I still think I know you, Charlie. Despite what happened back then, I just don't think you've got it in you. Now git, before I change my mind?"
Charlie upended the coffee mug into his mouth, slurping down the last few drops from the mug, then slammed the completely empty mug back down on the table like a drunk with a shot glass. "Thanks, Brendan. I've got to stick around for my dad's funeral at least, and I've got nowhere else to go for awhile. I do want to move on though, so don't hold me up too long."
"May I repeat: suspect in a murder investigation. You're stuck for as long as I want you to be, Boxer." He clapped a hand on Charlie's shoulder, making the suspect and former friend wince, as it was still sore from his fall the night before. "And hey, sorry about your dad. He helped me out a lot as a kid, he died too soon."
The sole response Charlie gave was a nod.
"Look, before you go, I can figure this isn't gonna be your thing, but you're looking troubled. If you need someone to talk to? You should head down the street, and look in on the Cerulean Order."
"The Cerulean Order. They're some new agey self help group. I don't really get their whole thing, but they helped me through a rough patch after my divorce."
Brendan reached under his shirt's collar, and pulled out a small pendant, of something that looked like a clam. The pendant glittered in the lights of the diner. It looked like it was made of regular metal and painted with blue shimmering paint.
As the pendant was tucked back underneath his uniform, Charlie gave his head a shake. "No thanks, I'm not into that whole sit and talk about your feelings crap. I'm quite happy dealing on my own."
"Fair enough," Brendan smiled. "But remember Charlie, from life the ocean came, and the peace of the ocean washes over us all."
Charlie hadn't noticed it before, but there was something off about his old friend. He'd been sweating an awful lot since arriving, the beads making his skin glisten. It wasn't particularly hot in the cafe either, even with a winter coat on. And while it was the first thing about Brendan that he recognised, there was something different about Brendan's eyes. They looked the same, but they were dim, empty. In any other town, on any other day, Charlie would have chalked it up to just being worn down at work. But this was Kraftsbury, Vermont. And there were no oceans here.
It was hard not to point that little flaw out. Out of all the states in New England they could have picked, the ocean worshipping cult had picked the landlocked one. Charlie kept his mouth shut, however. He knew there'd be some line about how the ocean is within all of us, and the rest of the world not fit to see the glory of the oceans first hand could still be save.
Blah blah blah, thought Charlie. He had gotten his full of the psychobabble crap after his mother died. No way was he going to visit one of those places under his own free will over his father.
"Thanks for the offer, Brendan, but I'll still pass. The offer for that beer is still open, though, That is therapy I can get behind."
"I'll think about it. I've got your sister's number if I want to get in touch with you. Again, my condlensces, Charlie."
"Thanks. Just give me a call if you need any help with this mess."
"I told you, I need lots of help, but you're not really being all that forthcoming."
Charlie was sorry for that, and said so. Brendan just shrugged, and turned back to the crime scene, starting to give orders to the rest of the officers there, all dressed in matching uniforms of dark blue.
With everyone distracted by the crime, Charlie made his way back outside and into the cold. It had warmed up more since he had first came by, but the wind had picked up, making it feel even colder.
He tugged his cap down tight over his ears, and dug his gloves out of the pocket inside his jacket.
As he was about to pull the gloves over his exposed hands, Charlie's eyes caught a strange discolouration on his fingers. He at first had the fear that it was so cold out that he had already contracted frostbite in his fingers. However, the colour was more of a glittery, blue shade.
Charlie recognised the colour in an instant, and held his fingers up to rub away some more of the paint that had come off the clam pendant. Some of it flecked away with ease, just as it had come off so easily onto his fingers. Much of it still remained though, interacting with the oils and sweat of his hands to stain his fingers, as if he'd used a leaky pen, and not washed it all away.
He thought about turning back into the Four Winds Cafe to use their restroom, but no one would notice the paint with his gloves on. Again he was interrupted from putting them on, as he saw a marking of the same colour across the palm of his other hand.
The mark across his palm was nothing more than a thin line, the barest hint of a change of shade, in a single, straight line. It would have been easy to miss if he had not seen the pedant, and stained his fingers with the poorly bonded paint.
Charlie wondered where it had come from. He had only touched the dangling pendant. He couldn't see how that could have left a mark like what he was looking at. Only if he had grabbed the chain, and the only thin chain he had grabbed to the best of his knowledge was...
"Oh, you have to be shitting me," Charlie blurted out loud, causing a number of people gawking still at the cafe, and a few cops, to turn and give him a unified dirty look.
Again he thought of going back inside the cafe to tell Brendan what he had found. However, knowing that one of the local constabulary may be in the same self help group as the man who thought it would be a good idea to wake up and make a stabby with someone's neck for no apparent reason, was enough to keep him away.
It was a pretty thin lead, both literally and figuratively, but it was something to go on, at least. With his gloves at last pulled on, Charlie headed deeper into downtown to check out the Cerulean Order. After all his protests, it looked like he was meant to go there anyways.
Charlie should have thought to ask which building they were in. Almost every place of business had changed since he was here, except for the Four Winds. Even their logo had stayed the same over all this time.
There was still a hardware store, but it was now owned by someone else. A gas station had gone up where a local arcade had once been. His favourite bakery, that would fill downtown with the scent of fresh bread all day long, instead of the stench of cars filling the streets.
After about five minutes of walking and seeing how much his old home had changed, Charlie saw that he should not have worried about finding the Cerulean Order. They had a large sandwich board sign out in front, painted the same blue as their pendants, and incidentally his fingers. It proclaimed that all were welcome within the loving embrace of their majestic waves. Another clam was painted at the bottom of the sign. Some other embelishments adorned the sign as well, which to most would just look like fanciful bits of detail, but Charlie thought they looked more like arcane symbols. For now, he was willing to just chalk that up to his paranoia about the group.
Looking at the building they had chosen to set up shop in did not surprise Charlie in the least. The sign heralding the coming of the clams was sitting in front of nothing else but an old church.
"Of course," sighed Charlie.