Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Revelation

Heat. Sweltering, inescapable heat rising up though the floors.  It was all that Professor Lyons could concentrate on, all that anyone in the building seemed to be talking about.  He had tried, very reasonably, to convince the apartment's handyman to let him take a look at the broken air conditioner to see if there was anything he could do to relieve the inhabitants of Collingwood Heights of their agony, but the repairman took it as a personal offense that someone else would want to do his job.  And so, he relented, but decided that he could not possibly continue on when he was sweating profusely through his shirt.

He threw his notes into a bag, made certain that the door was properly locked, and walked down the hallway to the elevator.  On his way there, he passed a man, short in stature, carrying a briefcase under his arm.  Only it wasn't the normal way people carry briefcases, one stiff hand clutching the shiny handle with an air of distinction.  No, this man obviously had something of importance in there, because he was more than delirious.

"Good morning," Professor Lyons said, with a courteously restrained smile.  For a second he doubted whether this guy actually lived in these apartments, then remembered that this was the most accessible building in Collingwood, and there were a lot of questionable tenants he interacted with day by day.

"And good day to you sir," Said his neighbor with a snicker.  He hugged the briefcase to his body and continued on. Professor Lyons had to admit he was intrigued by the contents of this mysterious briefcase, but it was the least of his concerns at the moment.

He stepped into the elevator, which was presently a sauna, and went to the lobby.  After his last misadventure with the seemingly severed hand, he had asked the bellman, Fred, not to accept any parcels that didn't go through the mail, and to keep an eye out for anyone suspect loitering around the building.  Not surprisingly, Fred always dozed off during his shifts, so an army of thieves could storm the building, and he would be completely oblivious.

Professor Lyons left the inferno that was Collingwood Heights, and came across a woman with wild brown hair, around forty years old, he estimated, who was pushing a Target shopping cart with a sleeping bag inside and a couple meager provisions.

"Hello, Ethel," Professor Lyons greeted her.  She scowled instinctively, then looked up from her cart to see who it was.

"Oh," She said, seeming surprised, "It's that nice young fellow who gave me his jacket that one chilly night."  She spoke as if she, herself, were her only audience.

"It's me," He confirmed, "Professor Lyons."

"Oh a professor?"  She had a startled expression on her hardened face.  "So you must be observant then?  Or are you one of those types with his nose always buried in a book!?"  She threw back her head and laughed, thoroughly amused by something that only she knew.

"Have you seen my daughter, Willow?  Oh, she's a bright young thing...going to be a star one day!  But doesn't even visit her own mother anymore!"

"Um," Professor Lyons said, slightly uncomfortable, "Could you try describing her for me?"

"Well, she looks like all the other girls her age, thin, half-starved, painted face, always well-dressed.  You would know it if you saw her, she has that special something that only talented people have.  Always a flock of followers, even in Collingwood!"

She fell silent for a moment.

"I want her to come home," She said, more seriously. "She's a brilliant girl  She taught me to play the piano, and what it meant to miss somebody."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"It's a hundred percent wax," The white-haired officer concluded, raising his eyebrows.  He cautiously pressed his finger into the palm of the severed hand, and it left a small impression.  Professor Lyons instinctively flinched.

"How does it look so realistic then?"  He asked, peering down into the box that was sitting on the table of the evidence room of the station.  He was somewhat relieved that there wasn't someone out there who was missing a hand for this purpose.  There was enough violence enough in this town.

"Whoever did this," Officer Carr said, "Is highly sophisticated.  Either, he had this made somewhere, or he carved it himself."  Professor Lyons had already realized this, but now the question was why?  Why threaten him like this? 

"So, you said you found this gruesome replica last night while you were walking down Ember Lane?" Carr looked at him expectantly.  Professor Lyons repeated his story, saying that he just "stumbled upon it" and was horrified by its' contents.  Officer Carr seemed to believe him.  Now Robin's involvement was cleared, and Clyde wouldn't be unhappy with her.

He figured he should go tell her the news, that the hand was fake, and that whoever was doing this just wanted to scare her.  She lived in a wealthy neighborhood called Redmont near where his parents lived.   It would be half an hour on the bus, and knowing Clyde's schedule, he would probably be somewhere in Collingwood now anyways.  

He thanked the officer, who seemed pretty pleased with himself for "defending the justice of our city," signed some witness documents under a false name, and walked out. The lights outside were blindingly bright, and he nearly stumbled into the street.  

Then he walked a couple of blocks to the bus station.  There was a couple sitting on a bench nearby, having a good-natured debate about something.  Bus 2 came quickly, however, so he got on, paid his fee, and sat down at the very front.  He had been awake since the early hours of the morning, and now felt like he was sleepwalking.  A couple other passengers boarded the bus, their faces lit up by the screens that were glued to their hands. It wasn't like it used to be, Professor Lyons thought, people staring blankly out of the window like a psychopath awaiting their death.

When the bus finally stopped at the last station, the sun was setting, and he knew he had to make use of the daylight he had left.  He got off at Redmont station, checked the map, and figured that Robin's house was roughly fourteen blocks northeast.  He took off down the shady road, with no sidewalk, under a canopy of Spanish moss.  The houses in this part of town had long paved driveways, that led up million dollar mansions with impeccably manicured lawns.  This was what he had grown up with, but he didn't feel any longing for the ivory walls and spotless furniture he wasn't allowed to touch when he was a child.

A quarter hour later, he had arrived at the address he had observed on Robin's file.  Tall cypress trees lined the walkway, matching him in height and width.  Tiny bright lights illuminated the path to the front door.  He noticed her car, a sky blue convertible parked in the driveway, and remembered how out of place it looked next to the rot and decay of Collingwood Heights. There was a space for another car, but it was vacant, so he assumed Clyde was out.    

Suddenly, he heard a high-pitched scream, and a loud splash.  His heart was pounding.  Robin!  He darted through the side of the house, using the shadows to his aid.  When he reached the backyard, he saw there was a little girl swimming in the circular pool.  She had chestnut brown  hair that swirled around her in the water.   Her skin was pearly white and her lips purple from the cold.  She was laughing so hard, that she could hardly slip the goggles over her eyes as she treaded water.  

Her scream had been out of adrenaline, not out of fear then.  Still, his pulse quickened.  The girl, she was undeniably familiar.  He couldn't recall a place where he would see children her age, but he definitely recognized her.  He thought back further, filtering out his memories until it hit him like a boomerang.

Eighteen years ago, he was ten, and every summer his parents sent him to go to summer camp in the woods four hours away. Camp Ridgecrest. She had been there too.  They had been closer than best friends, and then August inevitably ended.  He had loved her.  But she didn't go back to camp next summer.  Or any other summer.  

A vivid image flashed across his eyes.   All the campers gathered around the inflatable movie screen in the amphitheater, with their clothes that smelled permanently of smoke.  But she had grabbed his hand, and led him away to the Ancient Hill, where a thousand fireflies danced through the cool night sky.  She was the last person who he ever trusted, and he couldn't remember her name.

The girl in the pool was her.  Or there was a resemblance too strong to be coincidental.  He couldn't believe his eyes; she must be a phantom.  But he heard a male voice yelling for her to come inside, and he pressed himself against the side of the house.  When he looked back, there was a trail of tiny wet footprints.    

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Lion and the Bird

Professor Lyons purposely strode towards the graveyard, his steps brisk, as he raced to get to his destination before the rain started. The storms continued for long stretches of time, on and off again, and now he watched the overcast sky with nervous apprehension.

The visit to see his godson, Matthew, had gone pretty well, but it was cut short by the evacuation of the park after the balloon man went up in flames. He had been perplexed the whole week as to how someone would manage to accomplish this in broad daylight without attracting everyone's attention. The worrisome part of his brain realized that there had been two attempted murders, well one of them successful, and no one seemed particularly alarmed that a potential psychopath was roaming the streets of Collingwood. Still, he mused, the events were at different places, with completely different victims. One by water and one by flame. It was too early to tell if they could be connected.

He reached the wrought-iron gate of the cemetery, relieved that he had made his appointment, and spotted Robin leaning against an ancient looking willow tree, her hand wrapped around a crimson colored umbrella. She had a distressed look on her face and the appearance of someone who wasn't sleeping, evident by the dark circles etched under her eyes.

"Henry!" She exclaimed, gave one nervous glance backwards to make certain that there were no prying eyes. He wasn't used to people calling him that. He pulled his heavy coat tighter around his body. Then he saw that she was carrying a white cardboard box in her other hand.

 "Someone—" Robin said frantically, her thoughts ahead of her words, "They said to give—to give this to you. It's..." She trailed off, and her eyes welled up with fear. She delicately gave him the box, and his stomach dropped as he mentally ran through all the possible things that could be inside. He gingerly opened it, and couldn't help gasping at its' contents.

 A human hand, free of blood or dirt, was wrapped in some plastic material at the bottom of the box. Professor Lyons took one glance and then quickly shut it.

"Robin," He said in a low, urgent voice, "Who gave this to you?"

 "The mailman," She managed to choke out, "This morning. It came with s-special instructions to deliver it to you." She was visibly trembling. "I had to reach in there to get the note." This memory seemed to be the most traumatic for her, and he reached out and put his hand gently on her shoulder to steady her.

"Do you still have it?" He asked softly. She nodded, her beautiful dark hair framing her face, as she pulled out a piece of yellow paper she kept sealed in a zip-lock bag. Professor Lyons put on some white gloves he kept in his coat pocket (it was his line of work), and carefully pulled out the note.

"I AM HERCULES" was all that the note said.

"What does it mean?" Robin asked, looking up at him with wide eyes.

 "Did you make sure no one has been following us?" Professor Lyons asked, ignoring her question.

"I think so," Robin said, hesitating. "I'm so scared. Who's do you think this is? What should we do?"

"I don't know," Professor Lyons admitted, trying not to be shaken. "It doesn't mean anything to me. And I have no idea who's...dismembered body part this is. We need to go to the police."

"No," Robin said forcefully. "No, we can't, it will only complicate things. If Clyde found out I had come down here to Collingwood, he would never speak to me again." Professor Lyons felt a sharp stab in his chest, the mention of her husband's name bringing him a fierce sense of protectiveness.

"We have do a forensics test," Professor Lyons said. "For now, let me keep it, and I will figure out why this was directed at me, and what we should do about it." He paused, staring at her for a little longer than usual. "You need to get away from this town. Far away. Tell Clyde you're visiting your sister or something, and buy a plane ticket. Staying here means danger."

Robin debated this in her head, but didn't commit to any course of action. Suddenly, the wind picked up, and it started pouring again, in heavy tiers like a layer cake. Robin opened her umbrella, and offered him shelter underneath, although he was too tall, and ended up holding it himself.

"I should go," Robin said quietly. "I think I left the windows open."

"Robin," Professor Lyons said, "Promise me you'll stay safe." She nodded, and said said she would call him later that day to give him more information. He had a nervous feeling about this, but there was nothing he could do except watch her walk away through the dark and glistening streets.

Later, he found himself barely enjoying a slice of pizza in the booth nearest the door at the Pizza Palace. Again, he had purposefully selected the place, as he preferred to maintain his anonymity and evade running into any more students wanting to chat about everything, from the paper that was due Wednesday, to the wide assortment of colored ducks, like circus animals, that had mysteriously arrived mid-morning. Their presence ensured that it was practically impossible for any citizen of Collingwood to complete any task without the witness of an enormous pink, yellow, or orange ball of fluff.

"Hello," He said, as a girl with fire-engine red hair walked in. He had seen her at Little Tokyo before, walking around like she was really comfortable with the place. They had a trivial conversation one time, about photographs, or something of that nature, but it seemed she didn't remember him. She simply nodded and sat down in her solitude. He smiled as the waiter drifted over to her, and took a seat across from her. She grinned, and retorted something, but then his attention was focused on something else.

 A very crudely drawn lion had been spray painted in crimson on a brick wall across from the pizza parlor. It was rearing up on it's back legs, and there was what appeared to be a sword stuck in it's neck. He studied it for a moment. Just then, it clicked. Hercules defeated the Nemean lion. Lyons. Whoever had sent the severed hand, was going after him.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Off Leash

"Here's your coffee, two cream, one sugar," Chimed the eager young waitress, her face all made up as if she had somewhere exciting to be.  Her heavy blush and lipstick gave her an appearance more saccharine than sweet. She was new here, Professor Lyons decided, judging on the way she tried so hard to appear peppy, although all of the other waitresses working at the 72 had long since figured out that not even smiling got you tips in Collingwood. She looked fresh out of the no-name high school where they most likely drilled into their heads that college was the only path, and that if you weren't smart, your life was practically over.

He didn't usually take cream in his coffee, yet he didn't say anything after the visible effort she was making.  He also didn't usually come to the diner, but he figured it was a more discrete location than the coffee shop he usually frequented.  Recently, there had been a couple of run-ins with his students, who wanted to have long, drawn-out conversations that he wasn't sure were professional.

He was pouring over the notes Robin had written, scribbling little comments to himself about relevant locations.  Business Express, She had written. The field.  That bookstore with the all of the books that aren't on the bestseller list.  The mattress store that never has sales.  Her handwriting was very loopy, like a teenager's, and it looked comical in contrast to his precise cursive that had been drilled into him by his parents.

Suddenly, his phone rang, and he glanced at the bright green screen informing him that it was his friend, Eric.  Estranged friend was a better term their relationship, as they had been buddies in college until Henry had decided to go into the criminology field, instead of partnering with on a huge business firm that ultimately succeeded without him.  There could only be one reason for him to call...

"Hello,"  Professor Lyons said, tentatively, grimacing at the weakness of his coffee. 

"Hey Henry," Eric said on the other line, sounding a little bit distracted.  His wife said something to him, and he quickly added, "Monica says hi, too."  Professor Lyons never could tell if it was stress or bitterness he detected in his former best friend's voice.  

"So," He continued, "Matthew has been wanting to see you."  Matthew was Eric's son, who was five years old now, and was Professor Lyons' godson.  He didn't usually relate very well to children, but ever since he met Matthew for the first time since his birth, at a halloween costume party a couple years ago, it was tradition on every visit to pull out his old halloween costume and pretend to be Professor Plum from the Clue board game.  Matthew absolutely loved it.  

"Do you mind putting on the old suit, and meeting us at the park to play for a couple hours?"  Professor Lyons couldn't say no.  The look on Matthew's face would be worth all the small talk and regretful comments it took for him to get there.  And putting on the eclectic suit, that Matthew didn't recognize him without.

He hurried to his apartment, put on the aubergine suit, gelled his hair in a similar manner to the iconic character, and even the black rimmed glasses.  It was ridiculous, but in a way, he sort of enjoyed the ritual.  Then he checked a quick voicemail from Robin, ("Clyde is gone again."  He would have to deal with that later...)  and promptly hurried off to the park.

Its' twisted paths were brimming with people, and dogs of all breeds and sizes.  A fierce little Chihuahua darted between his legs, as a little girl with dutch braids chased after it.   A family was debating whether to get an energetic golden retriever, with the kids and dad on one side, and mom on the other.  She always had the authority.  

He wandered past a rock band he didn't know, that was performing a particularly intense song.  There were a couple of teens hanging around, pretending to act impressed, but the boredom was written all over their faces.  The drummer slammed one drum so hard, that he knocked it off its' silver stand and it toppled off the makeshift wooden stage, landing right next to a blown up picture of a little girl named Alice Reynolds.  Her name was familiar.  She was the little girl who had fallen into the lake and drowned.  Or had been pushed.  He immediately bought one of the trashy albums so that the parents of the girl would know they weren't alone.

Professor Lyons, donning a vibrant eggplant-colored suit, attracted quite a bit of attention as he continued along down the path, in search of a pair of bright blue eyes that could only belong to Matthew.  He walked past a long row of metal cages, containing the dogs that no one wanted.  The huge pit bulls and dobermans that were labelled "not good with children" or "bites strangers" and were consequently left alone.

"Do you want to meet Lily?"  Asked the man who was handling these unloved canines.  He had several scratches on his arm.  "She might bark at the mailman, but she's really quite sweet."  Professor Lyons reluctantly agreed, feeling guilty that his apartment didn't allow for pets.  The man, who looked to be about fifty and was probably a volunteer, unlocked the cage of a German Shepherd puppy.  The dog, evidently not used to having space to run outside, darted around in circles as the volunteer tried to calm it.

Professor Lyons glanced up to see a young woman leaning back against the chainlink fence around the perimeter of the park.  She was coaxing a cute little puppy into eating something out of her hand, and he realized he thought he recognized her from the coffee shop.  Or maybe she also occupied the eleventh floor?  Either way, her face struck him as familiar, and he tried to decide if they had met before.  He also realized that she probably wouldn't know who he was in his elaborate Professor Plum costume.  

He forgot about it quickly as Lily rammed into his leg with what seemed like all her body weight.
"She just wants to play," The volunteer assured him, a flush of pink running to his face.  Professor Lyons scooped up the puppy, scratched her behind the ears, and then gently put her back before he became attached.

He glanced back at the girl.  She was walking away triumphantly, clutching the dog to her chest.  Then he spotted the family from earlier,  the children bouncing up and down with excitement.  The mother had given in.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Apartment 11C: A morning visit

The day started with an early telephone call from a beautiful cliente. Robin Greene was inquiring, yet again, if he had followed any leads about the movements of her wandering husband, Clyde. 

"I have reason to suspect — and you know about a woman's intuition — that Clyde hasn't been telling the whole truth about where he's been recently," Robin said, choosing her words very carefully. "He's been gone six days a week, has been ignoring my calls, deliberately, I'm certain, and I've discovered he keeps gallons of bleach in his car. I'm afraid this is getting very serious, Mr. Lyons." 

"Professor," Henry Lyons corrected her gently. He was only twenty-eight, yet had completed all his years of university and earned his degree in criminology. "Bleach, you say? That definitely sounds out of place." He considered this for a moment, and heard her sigh on the other end of the line. 

"Can I come over to your office later?  I think it's best if we discuss some things in person."  He quickly agreed, although he wouldn't describe his one-room apartment on the eleventh floor as "an office."  He was still in the midst of settling into his new home and paying off the exorbitant amount of money from his student loans, by teaching classes at the community college, and doing a bit of investigating on the side.  

He found Collingwood Heights to be an unusual place.  It barely took any time to discover the curious cast of characters in the neighborhood, and there was a huge aspect of the culture here that was centered around the town's deceased founder, Stanley Collingwood.  It barely took any time to learn that Shawn, the shady guy behind the counter at El Cheapo's, would get into arguments with anyone who didn't pay their respects to Stanley everyday. 
Professor Lyons didn't usually meet with clients on a Saturday, so it left him with roughly half an hour to complete his morning routine.  He searched his drawers, meticulously organized, for a freshly ironed shirt, and pants, then combed his curly black hair.  Glancing at the paper, the Collingwood Gazette, he skimmed the headlines.  A local girl was discovered drowned in the lake.  Someone had found her submerged under the inky black waters, her lungs filled with liquid until she couldn't breathe.  This place is too small for a fatality, he thought, but he didn't have much time to dwell on it before he heard urgent knocks on his door.  He strode over to unlock it for her.

"Can I get you anything?" He asked Robin, escorting her to his desk.  "Coffee?  Tea?"  She shook her head politely, and folded up her long limbs as she took a seat.  She looked flustered, as her pale cheeks were flushed with color, and her dark hair was tousled by the wind.

"Can't we talk somewhere a little more...private?"  She asked, glancing nervously at the air vents in the corners of the room.

"I would take you up to the rooftop, where it's windy, and we couldn't be overheard, but there is ongoing construction of the top floor so it is currently inaccessible," Professor Lyons said apologetically.  "We'll just keep our voices low for now."  Robin didn't answer, but fished out a picture and some notes out of her bag.

"I have something important to show you."